Being active has lots of health benefits, but if you are struggling with long COVID, regular physical activity may seem like an impossible goal.
Why is getting moving again important?
When you are unwell, you can become weaker and less fit than before you were ill. As time goes on and you are limited in your ability to be active, your muscles become even weaker. For some people with long COVID being active may be difficult because of problems such as fatigue and pain and knowing how to become more active is difficult. We do know that not being active is not healthy.
Why is exercise important?
- Being active and starting exercise will make you stronger and fitter
- You will feel better in yourself and be able to do more things that are important to you
- Being more active will help with joint pain and stiffness
- Being more active can help you sleep better
- Keeping active and eating well can help you recover
- If you exercise often, it will help you manage or reduce the risk of other long term health problems such as heart disease and diabetes
- The more time you spend being active, the greater the health benefits
How do I start being active again?
You may only be able to manage small amounts of activity. Start slowly and build up your activities gradually and try to spend less time sitting down.
- Avoid long periods sat in front of a TV or computer
- Stand up and move about during TV advert breaks
- Stand or walk while on the phone
- Use the stairs as much as possible
- Set yourself small goals each day – you may start with small tasks such as making something healthy to eat or drink
- To start, try and do ‘little and often’ and allow for rest breaks between activities – do not overdo it and slowly increase the time you spend doing activities as you get better
- Give yourself time to relax and rest – this can help you feel in control
- Stop and rest for as long as you need to if you feel uncomfortable at any time
Walking is a very popular activity and is an easy way to regain your activity levels.
- You may only be able to walk for 1-2 minutes before you need to stop – remember to start slowly and gradually increase the time you are active
- Try to go out for a walk every day as you begin to feel better – at first this may be around your garden
- If you go out for a walk, do not worry if you need to stop and rest – this is a normal part of getting better and fitter
- Aim to do more activity each day and try to walk for longer if you feel you can
- Plan a time of the day for your daily walks that suits you, such as early morning or evening
- Wait an hour after eating a meal before you go for a walk and take a drink with you
- Aim for a daily walk with someone until you feel ready to go out on your own
- Keep track of how long you walked so you can see your progress
- Some days you might find it harder to walk for as long as you usually do – we all have good and bad days
- If you have an exercise bike at home, this might be a good alternative to walking
To reduce our risk of ill health from inactivity, we are advised to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week and reduce sitting time.
Here is an example of how you could begin increasing your physical activity:
- You could start by trying to walk for 1 or 2 minutes once a day, building up to 1 or 2 minutes five times a day
- You can set a target to walk for 5 minutes twice a day as you recover
- You should slowly build up to walking for 10 minutes continuously five days a week
- You should slowly progress to 30 minutes walking – this may be 3 walks of 10 minutes, building up to 2 walks of 15 minutes
- Once you can walk for 30 minutes a day without stopping, try to walk at a slightly faster speed
Usually physical activity is an excellent way to reverse the effects of an illness and any deconditioning that may have occurred after an illness. However, this is not always the case after COVID. For some individuals symptoms of long COVID can become worse after activity. This is particularly true for people struggling with severe fatigue. Some people will have a very positive experience when becoming more active and can progress gradually over time. If you are concerned about your limits or have experienced an increase in symptoms after activity you should consider following the rest, wait and observe cycle, to understand your response to the activity and your current limits.
Rest – plan a rest after the activity.
Wait – see if and how the activity has affected your symptoms.
Observe – think about how you feel during and straight after the activity. Consider how you feel a couple of hours after the activity and over the following 2-3 days.
Find out more about:
How do I know if I’m exercising at the right level to help my recovery?
- You are working at the right level if you can say a complete sentence while exercising
- It is normal to feel breathless, warm and sweaty when you begin to exercise
- Your muscles might be sore after exercise, but this should not last for more than a couple of days (this will be localised to your exercising muscles and not necessarily an overwhelming feeling of fatigue)
- You might feel more tired after you exercise (Find out more about fatigue and PESE)
What if I have a bad day?
- It is normal to have bad days so do not lose hope
- Learn from your experience to help you set goals you can manage in your daily plan
Keep a diary or list of your activities
Keeping an activity diary and following your activity over time, including how you feel immediately afterwards and over the next few days, can help you understand your limits and how you are recovering. These activities could be mental or physical.
Activities could be:
- Meeting friends
- Going to work
Rest is just as important as activity for your recovery.
Before you get moving again, please remember:
- Activity or exercise is generally good for your mental and physical health and wellbeing
- If you carry out any of the activities in this section, this is your personal choice – it is your responsibility to stay safe
You should stop if you feel unwell or you feel:
- Extreme pain
- Severe shortness of breath