Returning to Sports or Exercise After Recovering From COVID-19

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Many long-term effects are still unknown

We certainly know more now than we did when the pandemic began, but much is still unknown about the long-term effects of COVID-19. We know that the virus can lead to damage of the heart, brain, lungs and kidneys, but there’s no way to pinpoint or predict who exactly these individuals will be. Some people might also experience lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, muscle aches, loss of stamina and exhaustion – all of which are bad news, but particularly so for athletes and active people.

“The truth is, the disease can affect everyone differently,” says Dr. Schaefer. “Anyone, including young athletes, could experience a severe case or have long-term damage, which is why it’s so important to take this seriously.”

This is especially true with active individuals, as it can be difficult to tell what long-term effects someone is going to have after they recover from the virus. Some people might fare just fine and will be able to jump back into their old training regiment, while others will find that their athletic performance just isn’t what it used to be.

For the majority of athletes and active people, returning to activity will likely be a slow process and will require patience. You should work with a healthcare provider to make sure you’re progressing appropriately and monitoring your symptoms.
Exercise restrictions in isolation and quarantine
If you were exposed to COVID-19

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you’ll need to quarantine. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Athletes and active individuals can exercise in quarantine as long as they’re able to maintain the restrictions. Going to the gym or practice is out. Instead, look for at-home workouts. If an athlete in quarantine begins to feel sick, they should immediately stop exercising.
If you’re diagnosed with COVID-19

If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, you will be placed in isolation. Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. People in isolation should not leave their homes for any reason other than an emergency. Isolating a sick member to one room and masking all members of the household is advised to help prevent other members from getting sick. Athletes who are in isolation should refrain from doing any exercise until they are released from isolation and ultimately cleared by a healthcare provider to resume activity.
Timelines for returning back to sport or exercise

While an athlete or active individual is sick with COVID-19, they should not engage in any physical activity and should focus on rest, good hydration, proper nutrition and following the advice of their healthcare providers. The timeline of return back to exercise or sport is determined by how mild, moderate or severe the case was.

All athletes and people that engage in exercise that test positive for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms, must rest for a minimum of 10 days. There should be no physical activity or training in that 10-day time frame. If an athlete tests positive but does not have symptoms, the isolation date starts at the date of the positive test. If they’re symptomatic, this period begins the date the symptoms started.

If an athlete only has a mild illness or tests positive without experiencing any symptoms, they can consider returning to activity after the 10 day isolation period. Once that 10-day window has passed, the athlete may consider a gradual return to physical activity, but must not have symptoms.

If an athlete had a moderate or a severe illness (or if they had to be hospitalized), they should be evaluated by a healthcare provider prior to restarting any type of exercise. These people may need to have additional tests, including ECGs, heart imaging or blood work before they are cleared to start a progression back into activity.