Exercise while recovering from COVID-19

It is normal to feel tired, weak or short of breath when you are recovering from COVID-19 (coronavirus). But being active can help you to recover quicker.

Don’t worry if you feel more tired and have less energy than usual. This is normal and may last for up to 6 to 8 weeks.

Take your time and set small goals.

COVID-19 recovery problems for exercise

Common COVID-19 health problems may affect how well you can exercise.

These include:

  • breathlessness
  • phlegm - this can depend on how you were affected by the virus
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue) and a lack of energy
  • muscle weakness and joint stiffness

Read more about recovering from COVID-19

Start slow

Your aim over the next few weeks should be to increase your activities slowly. Regular exercise is good for you but keep in mind that it will take you time to get back to your normal activities.

You should:

  • start slowly and introduce new activities gradually
  • set yourself realistic targets each week
  • rest when you feel tired

Read advice on conserving your energy and fatigue after COVID-19

If you feel breathless

It is important to monitor your breathlessness when you exercise. You should exercise at a level where you are slightly out of breath but still able to talk.

Check how breathless you are on a breathlessness scale

Walking

Walking is one of the easiest but best ways to begin to regain your strength and fitness.

Set short realistic goals at first. If you are very weak, your goal might be to walk to the toilet. Increase the distance when you feel ready.

How much walking you should do each day

The following is a guide only. You should aim for these goals every day if you are able.

Try to plan your walk so there is somewhere to take a break if you feel tired or breathless. This might be a bench or a wall.

  • Week 1: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Week 2: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Week 3: 15 to 20 minutes
  • Week 4: 20 to 25 minutes
  • Week 5: 25 to 30 minutes

After 6 weeks you should aim to be walking at least 30 minutes 5 days a week. This walking should be reasonably fast so that you are slightly out of breath. You should still be able to talk and walk.

Getting around at home

If you have stairs in your home, climbing them may be difficult for you. If possible, try living downstairs until your energy levels improve.

An occupational therapist may be able to help if you need equipment to help you get around at home.

Talk to your GP to get a referral.

Exercises if you can’t leave your home

You may be in hospital or unable to leave your home. You should still include some exercise in your daily routine.

Being active and avoiding long periods of bed-rest is important. It can help you to recover more quickly - both physically and mentally.

You can do the following exercises in your chair, at home or in hospital.

Seated march

A woman sitting up straight on a chair. Her arms are on the armrests. One foot is on the floor, she is lifting the other foot off the floor.
Seated march
  1. Sit tall
  2. Lift your knee
  3. Return to the floor
  4. Repeat 20 times on each leg

Seated leg lift

A woman sitting up straight on a chair. Her arms are on the armrests. One foot is on the floor. She is lifting one leg in parallel with the floor.
Seated leg lift
  1. Sit tall
  2. Lift your foot to straighten your leg
  3. Hold for 3 seconds
  4. Return to the floor
  5. Repeat 10 times on each leg

Sit to stand

A woman standing up from a chair with her hands on the armrests.
Sit to stand
  1. Place hands on armrests
  2. Push to standing
  3. Return to the seat with control
  4. Repeat 10 times

Rowing arms

A woman sitting up straight on a chair. Her feet are on the floor. She is holding her arms out in front of her in parallel with the floor.
Rowing arms
  1. Sit tall
  2. Hold arms at shoulders
  3. Push arms out in front

Toe lifts

A woman sitting up straight on a chair. Her arms are on the armrests. Her heels are on floor and her toes are raised off the floor.
Toe lifts
  1. Sit tall
  2. Keep heels on the floor
  3. Return to start
  4. Repeat 20 times

Side legs

A woman standing and holding a bar on the wall, one leg is lifted out to the side of her body.
Side legs
  1. Stand tall holding the bar
  2. Lift your leg to the side
  3. Keep your leg straight
  4. Repeat 15 times on each leg

Your physiotherapist will tell you if you're ready for the following advanced exercises.

Leg back

A woman standing holding a bar on the wall. She is lifted one leg out behind her body.
Leg back
  1. Stand tall holding the bar
  2. Lift your leg backwards
  3. Keep your leg straight
  4. Repeat 15 times on each leg

Knee raise

A woman standing holding a bar on the wall. She is lifting one knee so her thigh is parallel to the floor.
Knee raise
  1. Stand tall holding the bar
  2. Lift your knee as high as you can
  3. Repeat 15 times on each leg

Heel raises

A woman standing on the tips of her toes and holding a bar on the wall.
Heel raise
  1. Stand tall holding the bar
  2. Lift your heels
  3. Come up on your toes
  4. Repeat 20 times

More exercises

When you work up to it, you can include more exercises in your daily routine.

Find more exercises involving:

You can also read a guide on how to improve your fitness

Where to get help

If you're still finding it hard to exercise 8 to 12 weeks after recovery, talk to your GP. They may refer you to a physiotherapist.

After your recovery, keep being active. Check with your local gym or sports club for activities that may interest you. For example, a local walking group.

Exercises and photographs kindly provided by Clontarf hospital physiotherapy department.

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