For some, social distancing in 2020 has been a chance to chase bigger, faster and more intense outdoor exercise goals. Others have taken time that would normally be spent at the gym to learn how to cook sourdough bread. Even if you haven’t gotten sick, COVID-19 has changed the way we exercise. But for those who have contracted COVID-19 and felt the symptoms, those goals may have shifted from achieving personal records to illness recovery.
We spoke with Erica Noel, a physical therapist with Banner Physical Therapy in Phoenix, AZ. She offered some advice as well as a few of the best exercises that can be done at home to help you recover.
Don’t Push It!
Before you go back to throwing Ketel bells or doing HIIT workouts, remember to speak to your doctor to see what your body is ready to take on. Noel also warned against working out when you are ill. “Even if you feel well enough to work out, if you have COVID-19 you should be gentle with your body and absolutely stay quarantined.” Noel reminded people who are sick with COVID-19 that light movement, like walking around the house, can help clear fluid from your lungs. If you have minor symptoms and want to work out, keep your physical exertion below 30-40% and listen to your body to know if you should just relax. Your running shoes will still be there in a few weeks and so will the sidewalk!
At-Home Exercises for Recovery
Once you’re on the mend, getting back to your old self may take some time. Be patient with your body and pay attention to the way it feels. Noel recommended staying below 50% of your maximum exertion and warned that even exercises that were easy before may push you physically as you recover. Try these simple exercises:
1. Go for a Walk
Even if you were a marathon runner before COVID, a few walks a day might be just what the doctor ordered. Noel recommended starting with 10- to 15-minute walks and if you are feeling good, start walking a little bit faster to get your heart rate up.
2. Get Up During Commercials
Did you start binging a show (or two!) while you were sick? As you continue through the seasons, be sure to get up and move during the commercials or at least between episodes. Doing a lap around the house and getting in a few stretches is a great way to slowly get back into motion while you are at the beginning of your recovery.
3. Leg and Toe Lifts
Get your lower body used to moving again. Stand at a countertop, then raise and lower your heels (stand on your toes) 15 times. See if you can repeat these three times. Also, while standing near a sturdy surface practice standing on one foot. If this is easy, close your eyes. But be sure to use your hands as needed for balance. Another leg exercise is to pull your knee up towards your chest while you hold onto the countertop. Just like the toe lifts, you can repeat these 15 times on each leg for three cycles.
4. Jogging Intervals
If you’ve been on the mend for a while and you feel ready to start jogging again, Noel offered this tip for easing back into it. Start by walking for 10 minutes and then jog for one minute. Walk for another two minutes and then jog for one minute again. You can continue with these intervals until you’ve been moving for 30-40 minutes. This is a good way to see what your body is ready to do.
Yoga encourages mindfulness, which is an important thing while you are recovering. Try searching for a beginner class on YouTube. As you move through the motions, pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses in your body. Be mindful of what you are ready to do and take a break if you begin to feel overly tired or out of breath.
Recovery from COVID-19 is still relatively new ground for the medical community. If after some time in recovery you are unable to perform daily tasks like showering or getting groceries, set up a visit with your doctor to see if physical therapy would be helpful. If you were previously very active and you are unable to take part in your favorite sport, you might benefit from physical therapy as well. See what’s right for you at Banner Health.