Exercise With Long Covid Is Tough. Try This Gentle 5-Minute Workout

Slow and steady is the key.
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Re-establishing your fitness routine after having Covid can have major benefits for your physical and mental health, but it needs to be approached cautiously if you’re still experiencing long Covid symptoms.

The NHS advises those experiencing long Covid to ease themselves back into exercise slowly. “Exercise is very important for regaining your muscle strength and endurance but this needs to be safe and managed alongside other long Covid symptoms,” it says. You can read further information about exercising after Covid infection on the NHS website.

Jeannie Di Bon, founder of the Moovlite app, is a movement therapist specialising in working with people experiencing chronic fatigue and chronic pain. More recently, she’s been designing workouts for those experiencing long Covid.

“You may find that your energy levels have dropped post-Covid and you may experience fatigue and post-exertion malaise (PEM),” she explains. “With this in mind, I recommend taking it gently and slowly. We need to keep the nervous system calm to allow the body to repair and we need to start moving without causing a fatigue flare-up.

“Listen to your body and try not to push yourself to pre-Covid fitness too soon. The more you fight the impact of long Covid, the harder it may be to recover.”

Below, Di Bon has shared a gentle, five-minute workout created for those who feel ready to start moving again.

But remember, always speak to a healthcare professional about resuming physical activity if you’re experiencing chest pain or severe breathlessness, or if physical activity is worsening your long Covid symptoms.

Exercise 1: Belly breathing

Jeannie Di Bon

Start with some gentle belly breathing, allowing the lower ribs to expand. For many people, Covid causes a cough and cold so we want to start moving the lung tissue in the right way. Try to breathe quietly in through the nose and out through the nose. Lying on your back does not require strong inhales so take it very gently, allowing the breath to come to you.

Exercise 2: Arm rolls

Jeannie Di Bon

Staying supine (lying on your back) is a good way to start moving – especially as some people experience dizziness with long Covid. You may find you don’t want to be standing for too long or doing exercises that involve inversions or squats. Keep it simple. This arm roll exercise can help stretch into the thorax and open the chest.

Start with your arms by your side. Try to keep the back heavy as you move the arms above your head and gently stretch. Let your breath settle the spine into the floor and allow the tissues to relax. You can add arm circles to this for a beautiful stretch across the chest.

Exercise 3: Ankle roll

Jeannie Di Bon

To help with the dizziness that can happen, some simple leg exercises like calf pumps or ankle circles are recommended. You can do these lying on your back: hold on to one leg and try to circle to the ankle without the rest of the leg moving. Gently lower it back to the ground and repeat on the other leg.

Exercise 4: Resistance training

Jeannie Di Bon

To build leg strength further, you can add a band for resistance work that is also gentle. This is another great exercise for circulation and helps prevent dizziness. Take a band and place it around your foot with the knee bent. Focus on gentle rolling the back of the thigh along the mat until the leg straightens.

Try not to lock the knee or hang into the band. Keep the energy flowing down the leg into the band. The back stays heavy into the mat – if your back is arching, raise the leg higher. Once the leg is straight, press the balls of the feet into the band and start to point and flex the foot. This is a brilliant way to utilise the calf pump.

Exercise 5: Seated twist

Jeannie Di Bon
Jeannie Di Bon
Jeannie Di Bon

A seated twist is great to help circulation and digestion. Many people do experience stomach cramps and pain with Covid. Find a comfortable seated position and cross one leg over the other straight leg. Use your arms to guide yourself around to look over the opposite shoulder. Try to lift the spine up as you twist, rather than compress the spine. It’s also important to go gentle and not force into the twist. Stay in the position and breathe softly allowing tight muscles to release. You can then repeat on the other side.

Move celebrates exercise in all its forms, with accessible features encouraging you to add movement into your day – because it’s not just good for the body, but the mind, too. We get it: workouts can be a bit of a slog, but there are ways you can move more without dreading it. Whether you love hikes, bike rides, YouTube workouts or hula hoop routines, exercise should be something to enjoy.

HuffPost UK / Rebecca Zisser