Exercising after Covid: what you need to know 

After Covid it can be difficult to return to fitness. We have all the tips you need to get back to it safely.

Even though Covid-19 no longer dominates our lives, it’s still very much with us.  Though we now, fortunately, have vaccines available, people are still catching Covid, and older people or those with underlying health conditions have a higher risk of becoming seriously unwell.   

Symptoms can vary between people, but the virus is generally less severe than before. Many say they feel like they have a heavy cold, or sore throat. Some may need to take to their bed for a few days while others just stay at home and carry on with day-to-day life, albeit with slightly less energy.

Female walking in park carrying hand weightsCredit: Shutterstock / pixelheadphoto digitalskillet
Following a few simple steps will help you return to fitness after Covid

After having Covid, it’s easy to think we should get back to normal quickly. But although the symptoms might have eased, Covid can still affect your body, especially when it comes to exercise.  

If you’re a regular exerciser, it can be a frustrating struggle to get back to fitness. Although you may feel like you should be able to return to pre-Covid exercise levels, the reality is there are many things you need to consider. Following a few simple steps will help you to return to pre-Covid levels of fitness safely.  


Long Covid (which means symptoms that last for months beyond the original Covid illness) is still affecting many people. In this article, we’re discussing those of us who have had a ‘regular’ bout of Covid and will return to normal levels of health. If you think you have long Covid, talk to your GP or healthcare provider for more specific advice.

Fitness instructor helping client into child's poseCredit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund
Wait for symptoms to go before returning to exercise

Wait for symptoms to go

Give yourself time to fully recover

When you feel physically unwell you probably don’t feel much like exercising. But as Covid symptoms start to fade, it’s natural to want to get back to your usual routine, particularly if exercise is an important part of your life.  

However, you should wait for symptoms to disappear completely, otherwise you could prolong your illness. Abbas Kanani, pharmacist for online pharmacy chemistclick.co.uk, explained to Exceptional that advice differs depending on your usual level of health, and how unwell you have been:  

“You should wait until you’ve had a minimum of 10 days rest from activities and have been symptom free for seven days, before resuming any exercise other than walking or daily activities. 

 “However, this is a general rule of thumb for healthy individuals who have had minimal complications from the virus. If you had complications, or it is taking you longer to recover, you can start off with light movements and work your way up. Ultimately, you need to listen to your body. Rushing into intense exercise can reduce the speed of recovery.” 

Dr Sunni Patel, personal trainer, nutrition coach and founder of Dish Dash Deets, adds: “The most important thing for people to remember is not to exercise while still having symptoms such as fever, fatigue, or shortness of breath. When you do feel ready to start adding movement after Covid, take your time and build up how much you can do each day. 

As a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I have both seen and felt the effects Covid can have on a person returning to fitness long after they ‘feel’ better. Primarily the two symptoms that linger, and prevail the most during exercise, are fatigue and breathlessness.  

Woman practising breathing exercisesCredit: Shutterstock / Nata Bene
Try box breathing to help lung function

Lung function

Reassess your breathing

Covid is a respiratory virus, meaning it affects the function of your lungs. Even after recovering from the virus, you might find it hard to breathe deeply.  

It is normal to feel out of breath when we’re doing something energetic, like running, cycling, or taking part in an exercise class. But Covid can leave you feeling like you’re suddenly unfit.  

In truth, you’re not. It’s just that our bodies need time to recover from the strain the illness has caused.  

You can’t ‘exercise’ the lungs, because they’re not muscles, but you can improve lung capacity, This can be done by strengthening the muscles that support the lungs – the diaphragm, the muscles in the chest and back, and even the smaller muscles between the ribs (the intercostals). Strengthening these allow your lungs to expand and fill with air.  

When you’re in the early stages of recovery, Patel recommends starting slowly with some simple breathwork: “When you’re at home, try to reduce sitting time by marching on the spot or doing some light stretches. You can also start adding some five-minute breathwork sessions throughout the day to help your lung capacity. Try a deep inhale through the nose and soft exhale out through the mouth and build up to a regular pattern of four-second box breaths.” 

Box breathing is a breathing pattern that has many benefits. It can help the lungs to expand and fill, but it’s also a great stress reliever and tool for mindfulness as well as being beneficial for many health conditions. You simply need to imagine holding your breath in a box, so you inhale for four seconds, hold that breath for four seconds, exhale steadily over four seconds, and then hold at the bottom of that exhale for four seconds before inhaling again.  

Woman doing yoga at homeCredit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund
Ease back into exercise

Ease back in

Take it slowly

You might have an impressive 10km run time. You may be able to deadlift twice your bodyweight, or you might attend Zumba three times a week. Whatever your regular exercise routine looks like, you need to be okay with not achieving it for a while.  

Recovery is a personal thing; some people will bounce back quickly, but others take much longer. The most important thing is to pay attention to how you’re feeling during and after each workout.  

It can be upsetting if you run 8km and then have to walk the rest, or you do an exercise class one day and have no energy to do one the next. But it won’t always be like that. The key is to build up slowly – even tasks at home can be counted as a form of exercise to aid recovery.  

“Find a time in the day where you are not too tired to add gentle movement – and factor in recovery time and rest days to not cause too much of a strain,” Patel says. “Listen to your body. When you feel ready to do so, think about adding some simple strength movements (like squats, calf raises and push-ups) to help support your immune system, muscle strength and endurance.” 

Kanani says: “Activities around the house and gentle short walks are considered safer while you are recovering before returning to exercise. Once you feel strong enough, light household or garden tasks and light yoga have been found to be beneficial during recovery from Covid. A walk can give you an energy boost and help beat fatigue. It also tones your body which increases your range of motion, shifting the pressure and weight from your joints to your muscles.” 

female cycling and male running in parkCredit: Shutterstock / El Nariz
Work on recovery at a pace suited to you

How to do it

Putting it all together

Walking is a good way to ease yourself back into exercise, and Patel says it’s best to build it up in small increments. “This could be by starting slowly with a short three to five-minute walk without stopping (or less if you feel breathless and tired) and gradually building this up by 30 to 60 seconds at a time as soon as it becomes easier, to get to a 10-minute walk. This could then be two 10-minute walks a day which increase to two 15-minute or three 10-minute walks until you can gradually progress to a 30-minute walk.” 

You can take the same principle and apply it to running or swimming, too. If you’re a fan of moderate to high intensity cardio exercise (such as Zumba or spin classes), try a class that has light intensity movements to help you work back up to where you were. Yoga, Pilates, or barre-style classes (strengthening muscles through balletic exercises at a barre) might be helpful. Remember to focus on your breathing and trying to fully expand the lungs.  

Adding in some strength training will help with joint fatigue, since your muscles will become stronger. This doesn’t need to be lifting weights in a gym. You might like to try a class, such as Bodypump, or do some exercises at home using resistance bands or bodyweight.  

Finally, it can be a good idea to make notes on how you’re feeling after each session and the progress you’re making. This can give you perspective when you feel things aren’t progressing as quickly as you’d like.  

Your recovery might be straightforward, or it might be one step forward, two steps back. But working on recovery at a pace suited to you might even mean you come back fitter and stronger than before.  

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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