COVID the new Normal ? How should I get back into Physical Activity?

By Chloe Oliver

You may have also seen the recent reports and headlines in the news lately stating that 1 in 5 Tasmanians have developed COVID -19. The chances are that you may be reading this, have developed this illness or know a friend, neighbour or family member that has. 

It has been well documented that it affects each individual differently, with symptoms ranging from asymptomatic to the extreme end of the scale. While the term ‘Long’ COVID is also being documented, defined as when an individual is experiencing ongoing symptoms greater than 4 weeks post initial infection. Those experiencing long COVID could be experiencing any of the following symptoms, with the time of recovery currently unknown:

  • Extreme Fatigue or tiredness 
  • Shortness of breath, heart palpitations
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Changes to taste and smell
  • Joint and muscle pain

If you experience symptoms at some point while contracting COVID-19 you may be wondering how much, what type or when should I start to begin physical activity again ?

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Harm in returning to pre illness physical activity levels too soon ? 

The long term effects for years to come of contracting COVID-19 are still relatively unknown, with research currently investigating this. Early research has suggested that returning back to exercise too quickly could increase the chances of the following ongoing side effects:

  • Myocarditis 
  • Pulmonary embolism 
  • Psychological effects - anxiety and depression

Where Should I Start ?

This has become a trending topic in the research field and due to the varying degree of symptoms and illness severity the answer is not a one size fits all. However research published at the end of 2021, has provided health professionals with guidelines to help tailor a return to exercise to each individual. 

It's likely you have just spent the last 7 days at least at home, perhaps on the couch, consuming a little too much time watching Netflix. As a result, our daily step count has been reduced and we are not participating in our regular weekly physical activities. This can lead to deconditioning.

Your first step should be listening to your body. Research currently indicates not returning to pre COVID physical activity levels until you have been Asymptomatic for 7 days. 

From here you should have the mindset that return to your pre physical activity levels should be gradual, individualised and tailored to your own tolerance to the type of activity.

A graduated return will involve increasing your volume (duration of activity) and load (Intensity). 


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So What Does a Gradual Return to Sport or Activity Look Like ?

This can be broken down into 4 main phases

  • Phases 1-2 

This phase should begin with your load (intensity) set at light/easy and you should expect to perhaps be in the phase for up to 2 weeks. 

Using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale can be a simple way to determine intensity. This is a way for you to rate your shortness of breath, exertion and fatigue associated with a physical activity. As seen below the scale is from 6-20  a 6 = no exertion, while rating of 20 = maximum exertion. 

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Light Intensity activities will be all rated below 11 on the above scale. This may include light housework, gentle walking, stretching, yoga or breathing exercises. 

By the end of Phase 2 it is hoped you have gradually increased your volume (duration) of the activity to 10-15minute per day, at the same RPE. 

  • Phase 3

This should be now the time you can begin to progress the intensity, adding back more challenging activities such brisk walking, jogging and intervals. What this may look like will depend on your capacity/baseline pre-illness. 

This phase you should be aiming for an RPE of 12-14. Intensity should be of a moderate level, where you are still able to hold a conversation while exercising but it may be difficult. It is suggested that this phase will last for at least 1 week.

  • Phase 4

The final phase will hopefully see you add back more complex movements, which may be running, agility training or strength/weighted exercise circuits. It is hoped by the end of this phase you feel comfortable and confident in your body to be completing your pre illness physical activities and more. 

The key takeaway is that this is a guide and the approach to returning to physical activity should be individualised to you and your body. It is suggested that you stay in each phase as long as you feel comfortable, before you progress. 

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So What’s Next ?

There are trained allied health professionals including your GP that understand and can assist  you getting back to the ‘old you’ - pre COVID. Or who can help your neighbour, friend, loved one or family member to get back into exercise safely post COVID-19.

Here at In-Balance we can provide advice, support and develop various safe exercise programs which are individually tailored to suit your needs and any ongoing long COVID-19 symptoms that may have arisen.