RunBetter App co-founder Curtis G. Mann, M.D. answers a question that is on the mind of many athletes these days…
I am frequently asked in the office, “How soon can I exercise after a COVID illness?” As with many COVID questions, firm guidelines are not available, but there are several points to consider.
Vaccinated patients, for the most part, tend to have milder illnesses. Those unvaccinated tend to have a more protracted (longer) course. Thus, vaccine status can certainly play into when exercise may be considered during a COVID recovery.
With new CDC guidelines pegged at five days of quarantine, I don’t recommend any dedicated exercise at that time. If by Day 6 one’s symptoms are mild, it is reasonable to consider some movement. I hesitate to say actual exercise, but as an example, walking where one can talk without becoming breathless.
Very low intensity exercise has many benefits with increased blood flow to all organs, so this can be considered beneficial in early recovery.
By Day 10, and potentially being out of quarantine, many factors are at play. If one has primarily lower respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and/or cough, then continued daily movement can be considered, but I would not push beyond very low intensity. This means being able to exercise and still talk in full sentences.
If you are feeling well with good energy levels, then it is reasonable to resume moderate exercise at 10 to 14 days. This would be characterized as not feeling like you are struggling to breathe during the workout.
I would not resume high intensity exercise for a month. High intensity would be defined as exercising hard enough that you are talking in two to three word sentences. This is because high intensity exercise has been correlated with suppressing the immune system, and there is the potential of a viral complication such as myocarditis if high intensity workouts are started too soon.
Certainly if you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, extreme fatigue, or there are other worrisome symptoms, contact your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.