Long Covid and Exercise

10-20% of people who suffered from acute symptoms of COVID-19 are still experiencing symptoms for up to 12 weeks after infection. Post COVID-19 syndrome, or long COVID, is the persisting of symptoms for over 12 weeks.

Returning to high-intensity exercise when the body is still experiencing infection with cough, fever and shortness of breath can potentially be associated with an increased risk of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. Studies have shown that some athletes are reporting symptoms well after resolution of infection, particularly during high intensity exercise such as running or swimming. They may experience high levels of fatigue or shortness of breath.
Due to inactivity whilst suffering from the disease leading to deconditioning, people may also have an increased risk of injury. Therefore, a gradual return to exercise under the supervision of an exercise professional once symptoms resolve is recommended for people who have suffered from COVID-19.

Post COVID-19 syndrome potential symptoms:

  • Psychological – Depression and anxiety, PTSD
  • Neurological – cognitive impairment, headaches, sleep disturbances, peripheral neuropathy, dizziness
  • Cardiovascular – chest tightness, palpitations, blood pressure drops when standing from sitting or lying, passing out or fainting
  • Respiratory – shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing
  • Musculoskeletal – fatigue, weakness, muscle pain or inflammation, and joint pain

Exercise Benefits for Post COVID-19 Syndrome

  • Psychological – Exercise helps to improve wellbeing and mood, and decreased stress through stimulating the release of endorphins. Exercise also can modulate the perception of pain.
  • Neurological – Neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain and nervous system to adapt and reorganise is stimulated through exercise, therefore increasing cognitive function. Exercise can also improve sleep quality.
  • Cardiovascular – Improved circulation, increased cardiovascular function, controlling blood pressure, and mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondrial biogenesis is the increase of mitochondria, the energy producers of cells. This can preserve or increase cardiovascular function.
  • Respiratory – Pulmonary rehabilitation can decrease shortness of breath, fatigue, and oxidative stress. Exercise is a suitable treatment for any lung diseases to improve peak oxygen uptake, lung function, overall functional capacity, and quality of life.
  • Musculoskeletal – Resistance training has shown to increase muscle mass and strength, intermuscular coordination, and tolerance to exercise. Limiting fatigue and increasing or restoring functional capacity.
  • Immunity – Increased immune function, increased anti-inflammatory cytokines, and decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines. Studies have shown that increased exercise levels in communities shows a reduced risk of contracting infectious diseases.

As always, it is important to seek advice from an exercise professional prior to adding new exercises to your program. So speak to your Exercise Physiologist or Physio to get your post COVID-19 exercise program started!

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