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COVID and Exercise: Why it's Important to Take it Slow

COVID and Exercise: Why it's Important to Take it Slow

Nearly three years into the pandemic, medical experts are still learning about the short and long-term effects COVID has on the body, from long COVID to cardiovascular complications. New research shows a link between COVID infections and cardiovascular health that is cause for concern, especially for those looking to return to their pre-COVID exercise routine.

There is a common misconception, especially early in the pandemic, that COVID mostly affected the lungs of those with underlying health conditions. However, research shows significant evidence that COVID causes inflammation of the blood vessels, which can lead to increased risk of cardiac and vascular complications, in people of any age. Studies also highlight an increased risk of stroke and heart attack that can occur up to a year after infection, even in those in their twenties.

We know that physical activity is good for the body and when done regularly strengthens the heart muscles. This improves the heart’s ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout the body resulting in increased blood flow to your muscles and an increase in oxygen levels.

Resuming physical activity after having COVID has an added layer of complexity because of potential complications. Those suffering with long COVID or who experienced severe symptoms should use caution and take a gradual approach when increasing daily activity and exercise. Irregular breathing, elevated heart rate, fatigue and exhaustion should be monitored closely. Pushing through these long-term effects of COVID can stress the heart and cause additional, possibly irreversible, damage including myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart. Try low-stress exercises like walking, stationary biking and swimming for short periods of time to ease into activities and to increase tolerance, post infection.

Returning to pre-COVID levels of fitness can be particularly difficult for runners and athletes. Respiratory symptoms such as coughing, congestion and shortness of breath can make running difficult. In general, the longer more severe infections require longer recovery time and a more gradual increase in physical activity. Runners who experienced chest pain or tightness, heart palpitations, lightheadedness or difficulties breathing should have a cardiac evaluation to ensure there is no serious damage that could be made worse with exercise.

Be patient and listen to your body. Report new or persistent shortness of breath or chest pain to your doctor.