COVID-19 can be very debilitating on your system and getting back to your exercise routine after a bout of infection may require some time. If you don’t allow your body the time to rest and heal, it can weaken you further and eventually lead to a re-injury or relapse. And since the post-COVID 19 phase comes with its own set of complications — particularly myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) for long haulers — one needs to be careful. No matter what your age or your fitness level, discuss with your doctor before resuming your activity.
So, when can someone start running or working out again after COVID-19? Dr Viveka Kumar, Principal Director and Chief of Cath Labs at Max Superspeciality Hospital, Saket, says, “No matter how active, ready and agile you are, you must start gently, beginning with walking and up your tolerance threshold. Then you can resume intense activities, gradually raising your heart rate. But above everything else, don’t push yourself,” he says. Both the BMJ and HSS journals had conducted studies on recovered patients and suggested the following: “In your first week back, reduce your normal training load by 50 per cent. In the second week, you can increase mileage up to 70 per cent of your previous volume. If still feeling good, in the third week, you can resume 80 per cent of your weekly volume. In the fifth week, you can resume 100 per cent of your previous running volume.”
Here’s a quick advisory by Dr Kumar:
How soon can a person start running or gymming safely after COVID-19?
I would suggest running or gymming only after a couple of months. It depends on the variant of COVID-19 that you have contracted. If it is mild or asymptomatic, then you can start light activity after 10 days. If you’ve had oxygen issues, then you should wait for at least a month. But if you have had no oxygen requirement, then you can pick up your brisk pace after a week or ten days.
Why is the wait necessary?
Since many COVID-19 patients have reported heart attacks and cardiac arrests in the recovery phase, one has to be careful about not stressing the heart. We are seeing younger patients, in their late 20s and 30s, report heart attacks that are related to COVID-19. So everyone should get a cardiac evaluation done, even those who are asymptomatic or have mild manifestation of the infection. Those with existing or past cardiovascular issues should also get a fitness test before they start running or working out. The wait is necessary to get an understanding of what their body can and cannot handle. If you’ve experienced cardiopulmonary symptoms such as chest pain or tightness, dyspnea, palpitations, lightheadedness, or syncope, during and after the infection, you should get tested further before returning to exercise after COVID.
What are the precautions that should be taken?
You should not go flat out on day one. There is a need for patience and perseverance. Even when you resume your running or workouts, space out your intensity, breaking in between. Remember even athletes need to go slow lest they disrupt their health. Stop immediately if you feel low on energy or are exhausted. Seek help immediately if you suffer chest pain or palpitations after your session. Eat healthy to get back your peak performance levels. Hydration and nutrition are very important.
Does COVID-19 permanently affect someone’s running ability or gym routines?
COVID-19 is a new virus and its permanent and long-term effects have not been comprehensively mapped. Unless the virus has severely affected the body, most people can make full recoveries and bounce back to their old routines.
Do variants, vaccinations and booster shots play a role?
The variants affect people differently and, therefore, each individual can take up running and gymming depending on how the severity or mildness have bogged them down. Those who are vaccinated can go back to running or gymming that much more easily.
Will running or gymming be good for the body after COVID-19?
Exercise is necessary. It boosts immunity, builds strength and helps you get back to normal.