With COVID isolation rules largely gone, some people are feeling pressured to rush to work, school or other activities after testing positive for COVID.
If your symptoms are mild, you may be tempted to continue (remotely) working through the infection, quickly returning to your regular exercise program so as not to lose shape.
But while we may be used to recovering quickly after other viruses, we need to be more careful with COVID. Aside from the risk of transmission, excessive stress can exacerbate and prolong COVID symptoms.
Pushing too hard can set you back
Clinical guidelines recommend that you get enough rest when you are diagnosed with COVID. Pushing yourself too hard too soon while recovering from an initial COVID infection can set back your progress.
While about four out of five people with COVID experience mild illness and recover within a month, for others, it can take up to a few months or even longer.
When people have symptoms such as fatigue and/or shortness of breath for three months or longer, this is called prolonged COVID. Up to 89% of people with prolonged COVID experience post-exercise malaise, as excessive physical or mental activity exacerbates symptoms such as fatigue and causes new symptoms such as pain and anxiety.
So you have tested positive for COVID. How do you know if you are well enough to return to your normal routine?
Here are five tips:
1) Take your time
If you’re feeling sick, use your paid vacation entitlement, if you have it, even if it’s just for a day or two to relax and unwind.
While it may be tempting to return to work quickly after COVID, avoid going into the workplace for at least seven days if you work in a high-risk environment such as health, disability, and aged care. For other factors, it’s a good idea to isolate until your symptoms resolve.
Read more: How should we deal with COVID without rules? Continue testing and stay home when you test positive
If you’re feeling exhausted but want to get back to work, you may be able to start with a half day, or work a few hours, and then build up to your usual workload.
2) Speed, planning and prioritization
Pace, planning and prioritization are important while you are still experiencing COVID symptoms:
Organize yourself by breaking down activities into smaller, more manageable tasks and resting in between
Plan your activities in advance
Prioritize what you need to do over what you want to do.
If you are experiencing fatigue while recovering from COVID, a referral to a physical therapist or physiotherapist can provide further strategies for managing these symptoms.
3) Wait until symptoms disappear for 7 days to exercise
You may feel ready to start exercising after symptoms resolve, but to avoid stress, it is important to wait until you have cleared any symptoms of COVID for at least seven days.
Start with light-intensity exercise – where you can breathe easy, hold a conversation and feel like you can keep active for hours – 10-15 minutes to start with.
Only exercise again if you feel recovered from the previous day’s exercise, without new or worsening symptoms such as fatigue and pain.
Read more: Getting back in shape after COVID can be difficult. Here are 5 things to keep in mind before you start exercising again
4) Ask for help
If you are experiencing more serious symptoms of COVID, consider pulling your friends and family. They may be entitled to paid caregiver leave or up to two days of unpaid caregiver leave for casual workers if they need to care for someone with COVID.
If you are struggling to manage your health and other financial stresses, contact your financial institution to discuss payment plans.
If you work in a high-risk environment such as health, disability and aged care, you may also be entitled to additional government support to help you during the time you cannot work due to COVID.
5) Know when to see your healthcare provider
If you’re over 70 (or over 50 with added risk, or you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and over 30 with added risk), talk to your doctor about antivirals once you’ve tested positive. COVID positive. Antivirals lower your chance of getting severe COVID that would require hospitalization, and are best taken within five days of diagnosis.
If you are managing COVID at home, use the symptom checker to see if you need medical advice for your condition.
Read more: 6 steps to making a COVID plan, before you get sick
If you have persistent symptoms after your initial infection with COVID, make an appointment with your doctor to monitor your condition and refer you to other health professionals, when appropriate, to help manage your symptoms.
Although there are currently no medications to treat COVID symptoms such as fatigue, exercise-based health professionals such as physical therapists can tailor an exercise program for you and progress accordingly to reduce fatigue and help with shortness of breath.
Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said “Good health is true wealth”, so be kind to yourself when you are recovering from COVID.
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