You may continue to experience some post-viral symptoms, like fatigue and breathlessness or changes in your mood after you leave hospital. This is common in people who have had a serious illness that has required hospital treatment. It is likely that the longer your stay in hospital, the greater the impact on your ability to get moving again.
These symptoms might make your normal activities feel difficult and tiring to do. It is important to be patient with yourself, take things slowly and gradually build up your daily and weekly routine.
- The first few days after you come home from hospital will be hard, both emotionally and physically
- It will take a while to get back to basic tasks such as washing and dressing yourself, and moving around your home
- Be sensible and try and do a little more each day, do not expect to go home and be as active as you were before COVID
- When you have been very ill it takes time to recover
Why is getting moving again important?
When you have been unwell and in hospital, you will not have been moving around very much. You will be weaker and less fit than before you were ill. It is important that you try and get back to being as active as you were before COVID or even more active.
How will I know if I am not as fit as I was?
- You may get tired when doing everyday jobs that you used to do easily
- Walking up and down the stairs may make you feel short of breath and your legs may ache
- You may get very tired after a small amount of activity
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 every day will help with joint pain and stiffness
- Being more active every day 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?
At the beginning of your recovery, 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, gradually increase the time you are active and listen to your body
- 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 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
- Once you are able to do this, you should slowly progress to 30 minutes walking – this may be 3 walks of 10 minutes, building up to 2 walks of 15 minutes
- If you are able to walk for 30 minutes a day without stopping, try to walk at a slightly faster speed
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
- You might feel more tired after you exercise, but it is important to stay active because this will help you get fitter
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 that you can manage in your daily plan
Before you get moving again, please remember:
- Activity or exercise is good for your 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
I was very active before I had COVID, how do I get back to my previous levels of exercise?
Start steady and be gradual
Do not expect to have the same level of fitness or strength as you did before your COVID infection. It is much better for your body (and mind) to start at a lower intensity (or resistance) and gradually progress. If you try to do too much and rush back to high intensity exercise it is likely you will feel tired and exhausted.
To start with, pick a level of exercise that is well below your normal level. You may think it will be too easy for you, but be patient because as the training progresses you will find you will have benefitted from starting slowly and building up. You are also less likely to have set backs and become frustrated or disappointed.
If you have taken time away from work, simply doing a full day back at work may leave you feeling very tired, mentally and physically. Wait a few more days before exercising until your body adjusts to working again or completing your normal routine.
Plan but be flexible
Planning is key, and if you are someone who has previously trained for a race or competition then use these strategies to help build towards your fitness goal. Planning your weekly or monthly training will give you structure, but it is also important to listen to your body and take appropriate rest when you need to. Adding an extra rest day in might not be something you are used to, but after a significant illness this can be the key to building up your strength and stamina effectively.
Recovery takes time
You may have had an injury in the past which took much longer than anticipated to heal. It is human nature to push ourselves and expect a lot from our bodies. This is all part of what drives us to train. Recovery time is often underestimated, it is important to be realistic with your exercise goals.