With almost all areas opening up now, many people will be returning slowly to an exercise regime after fighting off the virus. Follow our guide on how to get your strength back.

If you’ve been hospitalised by Covid-19...

Those hit hardest, with severe symptoms that confined them to a hospital bed, will have experienced a serious loss in strength, says James Turgis, a physiotherapist and owner of Excellence Physiotherapy in London. Turgis coached his 70-year-old father back to health after he developed Covid-19 and was placed on a respirator.

“If you are in bed for more than two weeks, you lose a lot of muscle and might struggle to stand,” he says.

Start with working the legs, which will give you the strength to get out and about. With his father, Turgis began by prescribing exercises that he could do in bed. “He tried things like squeezing a pillow or pushing the bed with his heel,” he says.

Turgis recommends that when you are strong enough to sit without assistance, perform gentle exercises on the edge of the hospital bed or in an armchair, such as lifting and lowering the legs. Once you have the strength to stand unaided, hold on to the rail of the bed and try gentle squats, limiting how far you lower yourself until you are stronger. But do begin an exercise routine as soon as you feel able. “Don’t wait and let yourself get worse. It’s so important psychologically, too,” says Turgis.

As your lung function may have been compromised, some breathing exercises could help, he adds. “Blowing bubbles into a glass of water through a straw is a very good exercise: when you push and blow, the water makes resistance, which strengthens your diaphragm.”

Recovering from this loss of fitness is achievable, but may take longer than you’d imagine. If it was a short hospital stay, you could be back to normal fitness in six weeks. Any longer may require six months’ or more recuperative exercise.

If you’ve had a moderate case...

For those who recuperated at home in bed, you may still have lost strength; even a week of bed rest leads to a remarkable loss of muscle mass.

Once you can get up, try a few strengthening exercises. To work your legs, Anna Clayton, who specialises in pilates, recommends the ‘chair challenge’ — getting up from the seated position without using your arms — then lifting yourself on to one leg before extending your other foot, heel first, out in front, before a round of marching on the spot.

To improve core strength, she suggests carrying a weighted rucksack around the house and up the stairs.

If you’ve been immobile for a while, you will also have lost cardiovascular fitness. Whatever level of fitness you were before you became ill, start with walking, says Clayton. “Gradually increase your walking distance where you can see how far you’re going each time.”

Many patients complain of extreme and lasting fatigue, which may hinder the desire to do the gentle exercise. Clayton suggests getting other family members involved in your routine to keep up your willpower. Alternatively, download the Relive app (relive.cc) to your phone, which will monitor your speed over the course of your walk, including your fastest moments, and, when completed, create a shareable video of your route.

If you’ve had a mild case...

Even if you feel you got off lightly — eight out of 10 people experience only mild symptoms — the virus can leave you tired and breathless and feeling less fit. Your heart rate often rises when the body is fighting an infection, and it might feel like activities take more effort than before.

It is difficult to know exactly the right time to return to exercising, says Laura Williams, a personal trainer based in London, who suggests monitoring heart rate during a workout. If it spikes higher than you are used to, take your training down a notch. She recommends starting with body-weight exercises rather than hardcore cardio.

“Do five shallow lunges to start your workout, holding on to a chair if you need to. If you feel extra heaviness in your legs, then park that a day or two.” She also recommends squats and stepping up on to a chair, as well as climbing the stairs.

If your fever settled within a few days and you felt significantly better after a week, you won’t have to worry too much about lost fitness, says Clayton: “It should only be a matter of days and weeks, rather than months, before you’re back to normal.”

Important: Please consult your physician before attempting any exercise regimen.

The Daily Telegraph

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