Sports medicine experts share advice for resuming exercise after COVID-19 infection


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — While some people have been able to successfully fight off COVID-19 infection, many who do recover have reported lingering symptoms.

More than two million have recovered from the virus in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

Despite this, a number of people online have commented on the tough time they’ve had getting back into their pre-coronavirus exercise routines.

Sports medicine expert Katie Balthrop says she’s heard similar concerns from a few clients, family members and friends who’ve been cleared of COVID-19.

“What people that I’ve personally experienced are mostly feeling is lingering fatigue, chest tightness, shortness of breath and just not having the energy that they had before,” said Balthrop, who opened her Savannah Sport and Wellness fitness studio three years ago. 

“Most of the other symptoms, like headaches and loss of taste and smell, kind of resolve themselves, but there are some people that really have trouble with lung capacity after COVID-19,” she told WSAV NOW. “It could be transient and it could be permanent; we’re not sure yet.”

Balthrop adds that anyone coming to her facility post-COVID-19 will get the help they need to bounce back.

It can be especially tough for those who were once highly active to get back into exercise — but not impossible.

“If they’re used to being athletic, it’s very frustrating to try to go back to what you could do when either your lung capacity isn’t there, your stamina isn’t there, you’re exhausted,” Balthrop said.

“Our clients come back because they know that this is a place where we take people from where they don’t want to be to where they want to be,” she added. “We’ll take care of them, and we can pace their recovery.”

She says because the understanding and knowledge of COVID-19 is still new, the best advice she can offer is to closely tune in to how your body responds when attempting to resume exercise.

“Your body will tell you if what you’re asking it to do is okay or if it’s too much, so we want to start slowly,” Balthrop said. “Go for a walk first, even though it’s really hot outside, or go for an easy bike ride.”

If a person can complete those activities, she recommends adding body-weight strength exercises like squats, push-ups and planks to their routine.

These suggestions are all tasks that only require the body to perform them, no weights needed.

If it’s done right, exercise can help with recovery; it releases endorphins that boost our mood, it stimulates the lymphatic system,” Balthrop said. “Whatever level you were performing at before, it’s just important to really go easy on yourself.”

Family medicine expert Dr. Marvin Sineath of Memorial Health stresses that whatever workout a person attempts after beating COVID-19, it’s crucial to do so safely.

Sineath advises checking in with your physician before resuming any exercise.

“The current recommendations are if someone has had no symptoms and simply had a positive test, then they should take two weeks off until they start exercising again,” Sineath told WSAV NOW. 

“If someone has had a mild case of COVID-19 where they’re not hospitalized and just mild symptoms, they should be two weeks symptom-free before they start working out again, and for someone who was hospitalized, at least two weeks and definitely getting clearance from a medical provider,” Sineath said, adding that even people who only experienced mild symptoms should consult with their doctor.

He notes that in general, but especially for those recovering from COVID-19, people exercising should take caution in the summer heat.

“If people are going to exercise outside, they should make sure they’re well hydrated before, during and after their exercise and try not to exercise at extremes of heat during the day,” Sineath said.

He also notes that people getting back into working out should start up again at a lower capacity than they are used to.

“Some may say at 50% of the capacity of what they did before,” Sineath said. “When I say capacity, I mean the intensity, the frequency and the duration of their exercise routine.”

He adds that for some people, cutting back by half may not be enough.

“They might need to decrease to only 25% of their capacity, and then, therefore, decrease by 75%,” he said. “In each individual patient, that’ll be a little bit different.”

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