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5 things to keep in mind when returning to physical activity after a COVID-19 infection

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Many people experience difficulty getting moving after a COVID-19 infection even with mild symptoms.

Viral illnesses make you fatigued but a week of relative immobility (7 day covid isolation period) can result in loss of muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. You can do light exercise and sit to stand for one minute, marching on the spot or light stretching in this 7 days.

A physiotherapist can give you more specific advice about a gradual return to general exercise or your specific exercises (such as swimming, running, football, basketball, netball, gym program). Here is 5 things to keep in mind when returning to physical activity.

1) A planned and gradual return

Start low intensity activities such as walking, standing, yoga and gentle strengthening.

2) Strengthening is just as important as cardio

Strength training can trigger the production of hormones and cells that boost your immune system. Body weight exercises are a great starting point even if you don't have weights or resistance bands (eg. free squats, calf raises and push-ups)

3) Don't overexert

Aim to start with an activity that you can maintain for hours. Easy to breathe and carry a conversation.

4) Listen to your body

Only progress intensity of exercise and lengthen duration if you do not experience any new or returning symptoms after exercise

5) Look out for worsening symptoms

If you experience chest pain, dizziness or difficulty breathing stop immediately. Seek advice for ongoing increased fatigue especially lasting several month post covid infection.

People can also experience post-exertional malaise after returning to exercise. They might feel ok at the start but then severely fatigued after the exercise. They can also experience pain, emotional distress, and interrupted sleep. You can seek advice from your doctor and/ or physiotherapist on how to better pace/ spread out your activity / exercise to minimise this.

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