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06 23, 2021

Returning to an active routine after COVID-19

Returning to exercise after an illness like COVID-19 takes planning and patience. Partnering with your internal medicine physician will ensure your safe and gradual return to physical activity.

People who have had COVID-19, primarily those with pre-existing conditions, should visit their physician before returning to exercise to confirm their symptom resolution and assess their pulmonary and cardiovascular health.

Research has shown that the virus can affect many organs, particularly the heart and lungs. Returning to high-intensity activities too quickly can be harmful. However, too much time without exercise can be detrimental too. 
You need a balance between obstructing an already inactive routine from undertaking physical activity at recommended levels beneficial for your health and the potential risk of cardiac or other consequences.

To ease back into an exercise routine after recovering from COVID-19, follow these tips:

Take it slow. Experts suggest adopting a four-phase approach with a minimum of one week spent in each phase. Light intensity activities such as stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, and walking are good options for the first two phases. In phases three and four, you can introduce resistance training and aerobic exercises that challenge your balance, coordination, and strength. Advancing to more strenuous activity should happen gradually and slowly; it could take weeks or even months.

Be patient. Don't push too hard on a body that is still recovering. This virus causes inflammation, and it takes time to recover. Keep in mind that your progression may take longer if you've experienced significant deconditioning. If you stop using your muscles, you will see a decline in muscle mass and strength, especially as you age. 

Listen to your body. If you experience chest pain or heart palpitations, stop exercising immediately and consult with your physician. Be mindful while exercising; otherwise, you risk hurting yourself. Keeping a journal and wearing devices and trackers can also help you track your progress and intensity levels. 

Set realistic expectations. Many people set very high expectations and get frustrated if they have a setback or don't see immediate results. It's essential to keep in mind what your body has been through and allow it time to adjust. Although you may not see results in the first few weeks, you will over time.

Exercise is a long-term investment in your overall health. The immediate benefits of exercise include improved sleep quality, decreased anxiety, improved mood, and reduced blood pressure. Over the long term, regular exercise enhances brain health, lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases, improves bone health, reduces weight gain, and improves immune function.

Consult with your primary care physician to devise the best-tailored plan for easing back into exercise.

Abed Alhomsi, MD

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