How to start exercising safely again after having COVID-19

Brandon Rawlings poses with his wife after finishing a race. He says he relies on running to stay fit and was forced to find other ways to take care of his health after contracting COVID-19 last fall as his ability to run has been limited. (Family photo)

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EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Hundreds of thousands of Utahns have already had COVID-19And while it may be tempting for many amateur athletes to train like an Olympian, doctors say now is not the time. A rider from Utah shared his experience after hiring the delta variant last fall.

Brandon Rawlings of Eagle Mountain loves to run. He logged more than 2,000 miles last year and has competed in more than 30 races.

“I always run 10+ miles a few times a week. I do a lot of half marathons,” Rawlings said.

A week before he was scheduled to run at the St. George Marathon last October, Brandon Rawlings contracted COVID-19.  Although he had just finished a 24-mile run in preparation for the race, he could barely run a mile when he was sick.
A week before he was scheduled to run at the St. George Marathon last October, Brandon Rawlings contracted COVID-19. Although he had just finished a 24-mile run in preparation for the race, he could barely run a mile when he was sick. (Photo: Family photo)

He was scheduled to compete in the St. George Marathon last October, but contracted COVID-19 about a week earlier.

“I was so bummed out,” he said. “I was very excited to execute it. For about six months, I was preparing myself.”

They believe that one of their five children brought COVID-19 home from school and, although he was fully vaccinated and did his best to isolate himself, he inevitably fell ill.

“I still ended up getting hit pretty hard. I ended up with a fever of 103 for a couple of days,” he said.

Despite the frustration, Brandon Rawlings had to modify his career goals after contracting COVID-19 last fall.  He went from running 10 miles several times a week to only being able to run, and sometimes walk, three miles.
Despite the frustration, Brandon Rawlings had to modify his career goals after contracting COVID-19 last fall. He went from running 10 miles several times a week to only being able to run, and sometimes walk, three miles. (Photo: Family photo)

Determined not to let his progress pass him by, Rawlings laced up his shoes while he was still sick. He had just run 24 miles the week before and was hoping to continue racing as his quarantine would be over in time.

“I went and ran a mile and I honestly thought I was going to die. I mean, I came back and I was like, ‘That was the stupidest thing I could have ever done,'” he said.

Much to his disappointment, Rawlings had to withdraw from the race.

Dr. Dixie Harris, a pulmonologist at Intermountain Healthcare, says first things first: Wait until you’re not sick to start exercising again. For most people with a mild case of COVID-19, she says it’s at least seven days with minimal activity from when they got sick.

“Even if most of your symptoms go away, they may still have some lingering effects, so we need to return to exercise very cautiously,” he said. “But if you still have profound symptoms, like chest pain, shortness of breath, (or) a racing heart, you have to wait until those symptoms have really subsided.”

She encourages athletes to follow a return-to-play protocol such as east of the American Academy of Pediatrics and really control your symptoms. She says that even those who are asymptomatic should refrain from sports for at least 14 days.

Brandon Rawlings of Eagle Mountain loves to run.  He competed in more than 30 races and logged more than 2,000 miles last year alone despite having COVID-19 in the fall.
Brandon Rawlings of Eagle Mountain loves to run. He competed in more than 30 races and logged more than 2,000 miles last year alone despite having COVID-19 in the fall. (Photo: Family photo)

“People really have to listen to their body,” he said, acknowledging that everyone responds differently to COVID-19.

Harris says that 10% to 30% of patients will have symptoms that last three months or more, including cough, chest tightness, elevated resting heart rate, fatigue, and shortness of breath. She says there is a safe way to get back to physical activity.

She encourages people to start with something simple, like walking, and then slowly increase the intensity of their workout.

“If you’re just walking at a leisurely pace, your heart rate goes up to 120 to 130 beats per minute, then that’s too fast,” Harris said, encouraging people to spend more time recovering first.

Harris says getting adequate rest and fuel is important. She says this can be counterintuitive for those who normally push themselves harder and harder while training.

“The best treatment is rest and self-care, wellness, sleep, fluids and (a) a good diet,” Harris said.

She says that many of her post-acute COVID-19 patients adopt an anti-inflammatory diet to help them recover. Don’t overdo it, adds Harris.

“They can actually delay recovery by pushing too hard, too fast,” Harris said. “They really have to listen and make sure the heart isn’t too stressed.”

Then modify your goals, she says.

Brandon Rawlings of Eagle Mountain loves to run.  He competed in more than 30 races and logged more than 2,000 miles last year alone despite having COVID-19 in the fall.
Brandon Rawlings of Eagle Mountain loves to run. He competed in more than 30 races and logged more than 2,000 miles last year alone despite having COVID-19 in the fall. (Photo: Family photo)

“It would be very realistic and it’s not the end of the world to say, ‘Okay, this year I’m not going to do a marathon because I had COVID and I had a pretty bad case. I almost went to the hospital and I still feel short of breath when I go more. quicker than a walk,'” he said.

Rawlings knows this sentiment all too well. Although he has been a fit, he has tried to set reasonable goals.

“It’s so frustrating. I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you… (It’s) almost like I have to start over,” Rawlings said. “If I could go three miles, I’d say, ‘Okay, you know, with this next race, I’m going to try to go four miles.'”

Although he hopes to make a full recovery and be able to compete in a marathon soon, Rawlings is taking it day by day. He said his workouts now include much more walking than ever before. He until recently he has not been able to return to running long distances.

“What I didn’t realize is that after COVID comes this stage of being tired all the time with an absolute lack of energy,” he said. “I think if I work (hard), I’ll be able to go back there again, but it’s taken me a lot longer than I wanted to.”

Rawlings says he relies on running to keep fit and has been forced to find other ways to take care of his health as his running ability has been limited.

Most importantly, Rawlings encourages others to stay positive.

“You have to pay attention to your body, because you can’t rush it,” he said. “But don’t give up. Keep working and you’ll get there soon.”

Harris tells strength-trainers to start with 10% to 20% of the weight they were lifting before they got sick. He also encourages people who work in physically demanding jobs to be very careful when returning to work.

He also invites his patients to keep a journal to help them track and measure their progress. “Patients get better over time,” Harris said.

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