The effects of “Long COVID” and how exercise can potentially help By Lucio Adger
What is “Long COVID?”
According to www.nhs.uk, ‘Long COVID’ can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. To recover fully can vary from person to person but most recover within 12 weeks. There also is no correlation to how ill you are with COVID, to having long term COVID after the initial illness.
Symptoms are vast too, common ones include:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles
- Joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Tinnitus, earaches
- Feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes of smell or taste
So as you can see it really can knock your system for six, and also, in COVID fashion so ambiguous with how the symptoms can affect the body. So is there any way light exercise and movement can help improve the healing process through this time?
Can exercise help patients overcome ‘Long COVID’
According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM, link above), a return to exercise is key in helping the recovery process, but it has to be in small stages to ensure we take into account the effect ‘Long COVID’ has had on the body. BJSM has highlighted the stages and guidelines for which we should follow to help us overcome and proceed in the road to recovery.
This is while the patient is still symptomatic. It explains here that the patient should not be looking at any sort of physical activity at this point. Just to ensure plenty of rest and to keep up with hygiene etc. Here is a poster outlining the necessary requirements here.
Stage 2 outlines that a return light functionality work can be beneficial here for at least 2 weeks or so. Things to look towards would be light aerobic work such as walks and light stretching/ strength work to help prevent further physical conditioning.
Ensure you limit the exertion rate to a rough 6/10, limiting any strength work to a maximum of 40% of you 1RPM (1 rep max). This will help reduce breathlessness over time and help with progression. From a nutritional perspective ensure caloric supplementation and protein intake (1.5g>/kg) especially for more vulnerable groups such as the elderly.
Here we can start to look at a graduated return to exercise. Though not quite at full capacity, our strength work can look to an increase of 70% of our 1RPM (1 rep max). Our aerobic levels can look to increase to short interval training lasting 30-60 seconds or continuous bouts and rep ranges can look to be introduced (8-12 reps, 2-3 sets) to increase muscle strength. It’s important to ensure we listen to our bodies and only push as much as we deem capable though.
At stage 4 we can start looking at personal goals and returning to some sort of normality via our training. Some patients who may have been more bed bound over this time may benefit from a personalised programme that can help them improve and benefit them further. Over this time our mental health may have taken a hit so it may help finding psychological support as well as keeping on top of sleep, hygiene and nutrition.
Hopefully yourself or anyone you know doesn’t have to go through this, but if it does, then hopefully this 4 stage guide could provide some help. Exercise can help towards our recovery, but it has to be planned out with proper maintenance and management. BJSM is a wealth of knowledge for all sorts of fitness and health guidelines so be sure to check it out.
Keep well and keep safe from all of us here at RealFit.