How to Exercise and Recover from Covid 19 Rehabilitation


How to Exercise and Recover from Covid 19 Rehabilitation

When it comes to how to exercise and recover from Covid 19, the advice can be conflicting. For most people, the recovery from Covid-19 is straightforward. However this is not always the case and one of the reasons that the advice can be conflicting. This is made even more difficult by the fact that everyone experiences Covid-19 and the recovery period differently.

My advice would be to take the bits of advice that resonate with you and use that as your guide. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. If you are in any doubt about returning to exercise then your GP should be your first point of contact. 

Long lasting Covid-19 symptoms 

Mostly, the symptoms that continue after Covid-19 are fatigue, loss of energy, muscular aches and pains and generally feeling unwell.

Due to extended periods of inactivity there may also be reduced exercise tolerance, flexibility and strength. Mental health can also be impacted with increased anxiety around returning to exercise. This can lead to an overwhelming feeling of frustration.

One explanation why these symptoms continue is that our body produces cytokines while we are fighting off the virus. These cytokines can continue to keep working even when the virus has gone and pose no more threats. 

Avoid any exercise or activity if

  • You have Covid-19
  • Any symptoms return or develop post infection, this includes excessive coughing, excessive shortness of breath, reduced exercise tolerance

Covid-19 And The Importance Of Rest

The risk of experiencing these long lasting after effects can be reduced through early management in the post infection period. When you have Covid-19 there should be no exercise at all, even if you feel well.

This rest period should also extend to the early days following recovery. In other words rest, rest rest. I’m not just talking physical rest but where possible mental rest and relaxation too. If you absolutely must do something, focus on breathing exercises and very gentle stretching. 

Even though you may feel okay and no longer feel unwell and infectious, your body is still working hard. Pushing through it at this stage can have serious consequences in the future. You will lose fitness during this time but you can build that up again if you rest.

If you try to out exercise these symptoms you could find yourself struggling for a long time after the initial infection.

How to Exercise and Recover from Covid 19
Photo by cottonbro on

How to Exercise and Recover from Covid 19

The main aim of exercise after Covid-19 is to improve and maintain fitness, both aerobic fitness, muscle strength and flexibility. This will in turn have a positive impact on quality of life, self esteem and confidence levels. 

It’s more important than ever to include a warm up section, at least fifteen minutes long. This also goes for a longer cool down which includes stretches.

Ready to start moving again after Covid-19?

When you feel ready to start moving again, you need to build back up to pre Covid-19 fitness levels SLOWLY! 

Exercise should be paced rather than increased incrementally and be immediately reduced if any symptoms develop.

What this looks like in reality is that you might need to stop exercising even if you feel like you could continue. Otherwise you risk doing too much and then setting yourself back.

I really can’t emphasise how important this is. You might feel well enough to return to your workout/exercise routine right where you were pre Covid-19 but don’t rush. Take your time and build back up slowly. 

There has been recent evidence that suggests that long-COVID is similar to ME and chronic fatigue syndrome. In both of these conditions, graded exercise therapy recommendations have been removed from the NICE guidelines.  

Stage 1 Covid-19 Exercise Recovery

In those early days post Covid-19 infection you might want to focus on basic house work tasks, walking, breathing exercises, stretches/yoga. 

Making movement part of your daily routine will increase your fatigue tolerance. Avoid doing too much and only do what you see as a priority. Ask for help from others if you need too.

  • Move little and often, ideally daily but low level activity, not exercise
  • Focus on building and maintaining duration of activity first before raising the intensity
  • Cut back and rest if symptoms reappear

Stage 2 Covid-19 Exercise Recovery

The focus should be building on the duration of the activities from stage 1. If there’s any reemergence of symptoms, then you must rest and reduce the intensity or your activities. 

Stage 3 Covid-19 Exercise Recovery

Working within your energy envelope to build or maintenance strength and fitness levels.

Given the nature of Covid-19 you might notice an increase of coughing during your initial sessions back after infection. This is normal and you will need to find what works for you to reduce that breathlessness. For most people being outside when exercising can really help.


Recovery is non-linear and relapse is definitely a thing. You may feel you have reached your pre Covid-19 levels of fitness but there is still a possibility that symptoms can return. 

I know this is frustrating but trust the process and go back to step one to build back up again. Over time you will learn your own personal limits and will be able to manage the process accordingly, building in periods of rest after high levels of exertion.

Further Support for Covid-19 Exercise Recovery

If you are looking for gentle but progressive workouts to support your return to exercise post Covid-19 please join my movement membership.

Published by Aimee Pearce

Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist in Functional Fitness

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