Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
28 Jun 2021
12:37 pm

How to get fit after recovering from Covid

Renate Engelbrecht

Bouncing back into fitness and proper nutrition post-covid takes patience.

Bouncing back into fitness after COVID-19 will take time and patience. Image: iStock

Covid-19’s main symptoms might be similar to that of flu, but the recovery time has proven to be much longer and the way you allow your body to recover is certainly more important. The Coronavirus’ long-term effects could include cardiac problems and lifelong lung damage and many people’s sense of smell and taste take months to recover. These so-called long-Covid symptoms have an effect on how and when you bounce back into fitness, but it also has an effect on your nutrition – something that goes hand-in-hand with fitness and well-being in general.

Long-Covid symptoms preventing an instant fitness and nutrition bounce-back:
Dr. Dennis A. Cordone, sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone Sports Health says the virus’s effects on cardiac health is concerning and that even though middle-aged and older people have a higher likelihood of cardiac complications, heart inflammation and heart arrhythmia, post-Covid college athletes should also get their hearts checked and have their doctors clear them before going back to exercising.

According to ADSA spokesperson and registered dietitian, Omy Naidoo, taste and smell have a major impact on appetite, which could in turn affect body nutrition. He says chronic fatigue, weight loss, loss of muscle mass and general weakness are also common among people who have had Covid-19.

The fact that people have been experiencing such a variety of symptoms, makes pinpointing specific training guidelines to get back into a fitness routine rather challenging and therefore fitness experts have been categorising guidelines according to certain key Covid-19 symptoms.

COVID-19 Delta variant now dominant strain in South Africa

Fitness guidelines post-COVID

Post-COVID fitness guidelines include taking it slow. Image: iStock.

Return-to-fitness guidelines:
Dr. Jordan D. Metzl from The Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York says: “There is good evidence that there is a medicinal immune response around moderate exercise,” but he also highlights the fact that if you’ve had Covid-19, you need to be very careful about how you get back into your fitness routine. HSS has published categorised guidelines for the post-COVID return to exercise, which include:

Hematologic or blood symptoms: Start with low-intensity exercises and less sedentary behavior that will reduce the risk of blood clots forming.
Cardiac symptoms: Rest for about two to three weeks after the symptoms have stopped.
Myocarditis (heart inflammation): Wait for up to six months before returning to some form of exercise routine.
Gastrointestinal effects: Keep a close eye on fluid and calorie intake as you ease into your fitness routine.
No symptoms: Return to your normal fitness routine at only 50% of the usual intensity and only if you haven’t had any symptoms for a full week.

The SA Coronavirus website also provides similar guidelines on returning to your original level of fitness.

Steps to getting back into your fitness routine:

  1. If you have cold or flu symptoms, get a Covid-19 test done before returning to your fitness routine.
  2. Don’t exercise if you’re still sick.
  3. Consult your doctor before embracing any kind of exercise.
  4. If you experienced chest pain, shortness of breath or fatigue while having Covid-19, consider seeing a cardiologist before resuming your fitness routine.
  5. Let your doctor help you to devise a plan to be active while still protecting your health.
  6. Start slow and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.
  7. Listen to your body.
  8. Stop exercising if your symptoms return. That includes chest pain, fever, palpitations or shortness of breath.

Other things to look out for while exercising include a higher than usual resting and exercise heart rate, a longer recovery time, excessive fatigue even with a low intensity workout, dizziness or muscle pain.

Post-COVID fitness and nutrition guidelines

Fitness and nutrition go hand-in-hand when it comes to bouncing back post-COVID. Image: iStock.

Post-COVID nutrition guidelines:

  1. When your body is fighting an infection, it needs more energy and fluids. Eat a variety of foods every day to ensure balanced nutrition and drink plenty of clean, safe water. (Water is particularly important if you are still experiencing symptoms like fever, vomiting and diarrhea).
  2. Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and focus on plant-based meals to ensure optimal intake of immune-supporting vitamins and minerals.
  3. Include whole grains and high fiber foods in most meals.
  4. If you find that you have lost muscle mass, focus on high protein foods like lean chicken, eggs, dairy, fish, legumes, beans, lentils and chickpeas to support muscle recovery.
  5. Limit foods and drinks that are high in sugar, as well as processed and fast foods.