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Sport after Corona: Regain fitness step by step

If you’re feeling better after you’ve had the coronavirus, should you get back to training at full intensity straight away? Doctors advise: Definitely not. Why you should have a check-up before starting back at sport.

Text: Katharina Rilling; photo: Unsplash

Out of breath after climbing a few steps, your heart is racing, your muscles ache and you feel faint. The coronavirus weakens the body and weeks of resting or maybe even having to lie down really take their toll. So it’s not surprising that you want to get back into shape as soon as possible after the illness. But what do you need to know about returning to sport after having had the coronavirus? We asked an expert.

When to get back to sport after corona?

How do I know when I’m fit enough to start jogging again or get back to the gym for strength training? “You won’t know yourself,” says Natina Schregenberger, general practitioner and sports medicine specialist at SportClinic in Zurich Sihlcity. “You should definitely see your family doctor or a sports medicine specialist for a check-up before starting back at sport, even if you feel OK. You may feel better, but that’s not enough in this case.” After a coronavirus infection, there’s a risk of heart muscle inflammation. “Of course, you notice symptoms such as shortness of breath or coughing, But you can’t feel your heart muscle.” After suffering from COVID-19, your heart, inflammation levels, kidneys and lungs need to be checked. Only after these values have returned to normal should you gradually return to sport. “Very sporty people should wait at least three weeks. And you should start with walking, nothing more,” says Schregenberger.

The doctor’s recommendations are based on an official step-by-step plan for getting back to sport after COVID-19 published by Sport & Exercise Medicine Switzerland (SEMS). As studies are currently ongoing, the recommendations are adjusted from time to time as necessary (see box).

How long before you can do sport again?

The situation is currently unclear, so there is a lot of uncertainty. “We are currently seeing a lot of patients across all age groups. They all want to know when they can start doing sport again,” says Schregenberger. How quickly patients can get back to full sporting fitness and start exercising normally again varies significantly from person to person. “The range is huge. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s still unclear how each person will respond to the illness and when they can get back to exercising,” says Schregenberger. In some cases, previously very sporty people have suffered longer from the consequences of the illness, while older people get back to normal pretty quickly. Or vice versa.

Prevention is usually better than cure. Does sport protect against the coronavirus? That’s also unclear. Schregenberger says: “Exercise probably doesn’t protect against the infection. But, people who are active minimise their risk factors such as high blood fat or obesity and this could alleviate the symptoms. And sporty people usually have greater muscle mass and a healthier cardiovascular system, so they have bigger reserves in case they fall ill”. However, doing too much sport can also weaken your immune system.

Racing heart, tired muscles

However, few patients at SportClinic have presented with the lung problems that are often reported in the media. Very few have suffered – mostly after a period in intensive care – from scarring in the lungs, for example. These patients received special treatment. “I mostly see patients under the age of 50 who are experiencing a high heart rate and tired muscles,” says Schregenberger. Many people are exhausted or suffer from dizziness, headaches or other symptoms such as tingling in the hands or rashes. Some patients have also had inflammation of the heart muscle. “However, I’ve seen excellent results in people who gradually start to rebuild their strength,” says Schregenberger. She advises people to take it easy: “Don’t put yourself under any pressure. Take each day as it comes. It will get better, even if it takes a few weeks!”»

Sport after corona: tips from a doctor

 

  • Google less, worry less
    “COVID-19 is like a chameleon. It affects people differently. However, too much research on the internet will only scare you. In forums, people tend to post only about worst case scenarios, because this generates more attention,” says Schregenberger. “Instead, you should listen to your doctor and, of course, your own body.”

  • Gentle exercises after consulting a doctor
    If you’re isolating at home, you can alleviate the side effects of lying down, such as back pain or circulation problems, with light stretches or flexibility exercises. After isolation, a light walk for 15 minutes would be a first step. If you feel OK doing this, you can start to walk faster. “But it’s important to ensure that your pulse rate doesn’t exceed 70% of your maximum value”, explains Schregenberger. Gentle bodyweight exercises or yoga can also help get you back into the swing of things. If you don’t experience dizziness, you can also move on to cycling at a slow pace.

  • Give yourself time
    “If you celebrate every little improvement you make, you’ll stay motivated for longer, ” says Schregenberger. “Don’t compare yourself to other people, and give yourself the time that you need.”

  • Trust your body
    Schregenberger knows that this is easier said than done, but it’s important to remember that setbacks are normal. Don’t let yourself get frustrated. You’ll have good days and bad ones. Schregenberger’s advice: “Believe in yourself! Trust that your body will adjust to the new situation.”