With the recent spike in Covid Cases, we are regularly getting asked how to return to training after infection with Covid-19. Whilst our chief reply is 'extremely cautiously', we set out below the Official Return To Sport Guidance together with some general notes and assistance to help guide a safe return.
We don't think we need to point out that Covid-19 is one tough cookie of a virus... If you haven't realised that yet, where the hell have you been for the last 12 months?! But a lot of people underestimate the effects it can have on your body.
The effects of Covid can be there within your body, particularly the heart and lungs, even if, apparently, you have had an a-symptomatic, or mildly symptomatic infection. These effects can last weeks and even months after the initial infection. We cannot stress strongly enough that you SHOULD NOT EXERCISE during the initial infection period, even if you feel well enough to do so. This should be a period of rest and recovery whilst the body fights off the virus. You will not lose a massive amount of fitness during this period, but you risk sacrificing (at best) a few weeks or months of training and (at worst) your long term health if you continue to train. The virus can be silently attacking your heart and lungs without you knowing it and you need to give your body chance to fight against it and repair itself.
Once the initial infection period is over, how to proceed? Firstly, please take whatever medical advice you are given! The following advice does not replace any specific guidance given by your care team! That said, most individuals will not have had the benefit of medical assessment, so the following guidance provided by the UK Home Counties Institute of Sport can be useful.
As can be seen, it advises NO ACTIVITY for the initial ten day period of infection, followed by a very graduated return, being guided by the way the body is healing and responding to training. This is where a heart rate monitor can be a useful ally in gauging the state of the body. Watch for an elevation in the daily average resting heart rate, or in the heart rate taken first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. Any more than a 2 or 3 bpm rise should be an amber flag to take it easier. A jump of 10 bpm should signal the need to take a few more days rest. Keep an eye on exercising heart rate too. Keep it below the recommended levels as set out in the chart. If you are following the advice on the chart and it suddenly spikes during exercise with no correlated spike in exertion levels, stop immediately and take a break from exercise for a few days. Consider obtaining medical advice before planning a return to exercise.
In the meantime, what do you do with all the 'spare' time that your lack of exercise regime has created? Eat well - aim to get 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day into your diet to fill your system with the anti-oxidants it needs to fight the virus. Consider adding some fermented foods into your diet, such as live yoghurts, kimchi, kombucha and tempeh - they are known to help bolster the immune response in the gut. Sleep well and, if possible, take short afternoon naps - this allows the body's repair mechanisms the time to really get to work on sorting out the damage the virus is trying to inflict. Get some fresh air and day light, if only by sitting out in the garden for a while, well wrapped up - Fresh air rejuvenates the system, sunlight gives you a good dose of vitamin D, and elevates the mood. Do something that makes you happy and calm - read a book, watch TV, do Jigsaw puzzles, spend quality time with the family, paint or draw. All of these things are good for your mental health and rejuvenate the soul, with a knock on positive effect on your immune system.
Please don't use the above in any way as medical advice! We are not medically trained. Even those who are medically trained are still feeling their way into the effects that Covid has on our systems. So proceed cautiously, listen to your body (really, really listen!), be kind to yourself in the short term in order to reap the benefits in the long term. And we look forward to seeing you back out there doing what you love in a few months time!