If you’re one of the thousands who’ve been cut down by Omicron recently, you may be looking for a much-needed endorphin boost. After a week of lying in bed and feeling utterly miserable, you’ve turned a corner and are either feeling sprightly enough to work out from home or have been released into the world again and are thinking about going for a jog or cycle.
Whatever stage of recovery you’re in, the question is: how long after having Covid should you return to exercise? With colds and flu, it’s quite obvious when it’s time to crack on with everyday life – you generally wake up one morning and feel a load better. But with Covid and the Omicron variant in particular, you could feel generally fine (a headache and sniffles, perhaps) and then the overwhelming fatigue sets in. That makes working out a lot more complicated.
Dr Amal Hassan is a sport and exercise medicine consultant who recently posted a brilliant guide to returning to exercise after a mild-to-moderate infection. She recommends that everyone take at least 10 days of consecutive rest after first testing positive, and having at least seven symptom-free days before attempting to work out. And when you do eventually start moving again, it should be done in a ‘graduated manner’. That means “being able to get through a normal day before progressing to start on light-intensity activity for short periods,” she says.
Those symptoms could include
- High temperature
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual body aches
- Chest pains or palpitations
So, what do other experts say? Jessie Jones is a qualified PT at the OriGym Centre of Excellence, and her main advice is to remember that Covid affects everyone differently. However, she also says that once your symptoms have stopped, “you can start easing yourself back into exercise within a few weeks”.
Like Dr Hassan, Jones recommends “starting small and building yourself up incrementally. Start with stretches or gentle activities like yoga or walking. Then, as you feel stronger, you can start raising your heart rate. Work on slow and steady improvement and don’t push yourself too quickly.”
And it’s worth flagging that if you’re normally quite active but have spent the past week in bed, the chances are that your usual fitness levels are probably going to be compromised. “It’ll take a few weeks to regain that usual level of energy and strength,” Jones tells Stylist.
Exercise can make us feel better, but only once we’re genuinely ready to do it
Dr Gary Barlett, a GP at the Beversbrook Medical Centre, is careful to warn that you can only resume exercising again in public areas like the gym once your isolation period has ended. But, if you’re isolating and feeling well enough to do so, some light exercise at home can be a good idea. “Obviously, if you are isolating away from other family members in the same household, then you need to be mindful of others so as to reduce the risk of spreading Covid to the family,” he says.
The key symptom to be aware of, however, is if you’re running a high temperature. “It’s very important not to exercise if you have a high fever/temperature. Once your fever resolves and if you feel well enough to do so, some light exercise can really help boost your general wellbeing, both physically and mentally.”
Finding even moderate activity tough going? Dr Barlett says it’s normal to find that your fitness levels have dropped, compared to pre-Covid infection. “If fatigue is your main issue, start off with gentle exercises and consider increasing your effort week on week. If you feel you’re doing too much exercise and your symptoms such as fatigue are worsening, then it is important to reduce your effort of exercise and gradually increase intensity depending on how you are feeling.”
Top tips for returning to exercise post-Covid
Temitope Nuga, strength and conditioning Coach and PT general manager at Frame offers her tips for getting active again.
Start off with low-impact exercises
“It’s important that you keep moving, but keep it light and listen to your body,” she says. “Start with brisk walks to begin with – you will feel tired and may get breathless quicker than usual, but this is normal, so don’t be alarmed.
Stay in your lane
Nuga reminds us: “Take it slowly and don’t compare your recovery to anyone else’s”.
Work up to strength training
It’s not worth jumping straight into a tough circuit. Instead, Nuga recommends walking for a week or so before thinking about adding some light weights or circuit training into your week. “Make sure you go slow and steady – try a strength session or low-impact cardio session and see how your body responds.”
If you think you’ve got long Covid, it’s essential that you seek professional assistance before embarking on a training plan, she advises. “It could take six to 12 weeks to get back to training at your previous intensity, but that’s OK! Remember that consistency is the key and training smart is the way forward. Who knows, you could come back stronger and fitter than before!”