As doctors continue learning more about the long-term effects of COVID-19, they’re cautioning those who have had even mild cases of the disease to take it slow when returning to exercise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, although COVID-19 affects the lungs mainly, it can also damage other organs, like the heart. “Imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who experienced only mild COVID-19 symptoms. This may increase the risk of heart failure or other heart complications in the future.” The disease can also make blood cells clump up, increasing the chances of blood clots and potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Sports Medicine specialists, like Dr. Jordan Metzl of the Hospital for Special Surgery and Dr. Marie Schaefer of the Cleveland Clinic, have developed guidelines for active adults looking to return to exercise after recovering from COVID-19.
• Don’t exercise if you’re still sick and have symptoms like fever, cough, chest pain, palpitations, or shortness of breath at rest.
• Talk to your doctor before starting exercise again. Depending on your symptoms' nature and severity, your doctor may want to perform some tests to look for potential heart problems.
• Wait until you have at least seven days with no symptoms before returning to exercise. When you do return to physical activity, start at 50% of normal intensity and slowly progress over time.
• Stop exercise if symptoms return. If exercising causes symptoms like chest pain, fever, palpitations, or shortness of breath, stop and see a doctor. Other “red flag” symptoms include:
o High heart rate not proportional to exertion level or prolonged heart rate recovery
o Dizziness or lightheadedness
o Excessive level of fatigue
o Swelling in the extremities
o Passing out
o Tunnel vision or loss of vision
• Listen to your body. You know your body better than anyone else. Stop and rest if something feels "off." Be patient and take it easy as you continue to recover.
For more COVID-19 information, visit our COVID-19 resource hub.