Can you exercise with Covid? What doctors recommend

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  • Around 1 in 3 people have coronavirus without displaying any symptoms, so it’s common for people who test positive but feel okay to wonder if you can exercise with Covid.

    Of course, if you test positive for coronavirus, you have to isolate at home. This is because if you go out, you’re likely to pass the virus onto others, even if you’re asymptomatic. It’s the law in the UK and the US to self-isolate for up to 14 days if you test positive for Covid-19. If you don’t follow this law and are caught breaking isolation rules, you could face a hefty fine for breaking lockdown rules.

    This means you can’t go outside to run, walk, cycle or do any of the other types of exercise currently allowed under the lockdown exercise rules. But if you’re stuck at home, feel ok and have watched everything half-decent on Netflix, can you exercise with Covid and do an online workout or two to stay fit and pass the time?

    This is what doctors want you to know about exercising with Covid-19, once you’ve tested positive for the virus.

    Can you exercise with Covid?

    While there is nothing to stop you trying to exercise with Covid, GP Dr Giuseppe Aragona says it’s not advisable.

    “It is physically possible to partake in exercise with Covid and there is minimal risk with this. Some people may be asymptomatic and not affected at all. However, they should remain aware that this is a virus that does attack the respiratory system. Doing exercise could potentially leave you feeling out of breath or feeling tired much quicker than usual,” Dr Giuseppe, a general practitioner and online doctor for PrescriptionDoctor.com, told GoodtoKnow. “You may also find that you cannot do the level of exercise that you usually do.”

    Dr Giuseppe emphasises the importance of rest  – even if you feel fine after testing positive for the virus: “Ultimately everyone will experience Covid differently. However, Covid attacks the same areas of the body and so even if you’re fighting fit with zero symptoms, chances are doing exercise will cause you to feel tired and worse than when you started. Your body really needs rest as it is trying to fight this illness.”

    Woman taking medicine while sitting on bed at home

    Getting rest and drinking plenty of water is important for recovery.  (Credit: Getty)

    Tips for exercising with Covid

    If you do want to try exercising while at home and isolating, Dr Giuseppe advises taking it slow and – most importantly – listening to your body:

    “It is completely up to you whether you partake in exercise whilst having Covid. You know your body. You will be able to tell how bad your symptoms are and how you feel. It is probably advised to not to do any high impact, strenuous exercise. This could actually have adverse effects and you may end up feeling worse than when you started.”

    “I would recommend that you postpone exercise if you are experiencing “below the neck” symptoms such as a cough, an upset stomach, chest congestion or breathing issues. Covid is a respiratory illness. Even if you feel fine, doing exercise could affect your breathing as you are still Covid positive.

    “A fever is your body’s way of telling you to slow down. It’s super important to listen to your body. If you are suffering with a fever or some more of the major symptoms of Covid such as fatigue, body aches or breathlessness, then it’s best to rest for a few days until symptoms subside. Then you can ease back into slow impact exercise.”

    Woman rolling up yoga matt after exercise testing positive for Covid-19

    When you start exercising again, ease back into working out with low intensity exercise like yoga. (Credit: Getty)

    Why are people exercising with Covid?

    For some experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms, the thought of exercising with Covid is the furthest thing from their mind. But Lee Chambers, environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant, says that for anyone not experiencing symptoms, the urge to exercise is actually quite a normal response to living in lockdown.

    “Exercise is one of the best ways to keep us healthy. Even if we are diagnosed with Covid, there are a number of reasons we may still look to continue exercising. Firstly, exercise is a choice. Individuals who value training put a high weight on the freedom to do so, especially when we have restrictions on what we are allowed to do.”

    “Secondly, if we are asymptomatic, we are likely to continue with our routine. [We’ll] be less concerned about exercise being an issue to our health. There is also the anxiety of wanting to return to exercise. Exercise can boost our immunity, making it appealing to recover more rapidly.”

    Research from earlier on in the pandemic found that more people were exercising during lockdown than at any other time. The study asked people who regularly exercised and those who didn’t whether there were any increase since the first lockdown. Among those those who considered themselves keen exercisers, 36% of people reported exercising more often than they had done before. 41% said they were exercising equally as much.

    Those that weren’t particularly active before the pandemic appear to have taken to exercise even more strongly in lockdown though. 58% of people who were “low active” were exercising more. Only 7% of people were exercising less than they were before.

    What can you do instead?

    With Dr Aragona’s warning in mind, Lee says there are plenty of things you can do instead of working out.

    “As much as exercise is a positive in our lives, it is a stressor on our bodies. The benefits of exercise are numerous. But [if we can] we should look to other activities that boost our mood, stimulate our mind and provide resilience to stress.

    “Look at working on flexibility and balance. You can utilise the time to research what may be beneficial when you can get back into your routine. Ensure you are consistent with your sleep with a good sleep schedule. Aim to eat well most of the time, and you will get many of the same benefits. And don’t neglect to train your mind. Trying new activities and utilising self-care to ensure you recover and continue to flourish.”