Reconditioning After COVID
Each of us was impacted by the increased isolation during COVID. So it’s not surprising to note that more than 60% of physicians saw an increase in obesity among their patients this past year. There are numerous reasons for this.
In some cases, once gyms and exercise studios closed, people just didn’t have the motivation to exercise on their own. For others, the logistics of suddenly caring for everyone in the house put exercise low on the list of priorities. Then are those who actually got COVID and struggled (or still struggle) with long haul symptoms.
Whatever the case, reconditioning after COVID has been a challenge for more than a handful of folks.
The COVID Conundrum
Although most gyms and fitness centers are open again, over 60% of adults still aren’t getting the minimum requirement for exercise each week. Around 25% aren’t active at all! Not only has this resulted in more obesity, but there’s an overall loss of strength. And this lack of exercise can have negative consequences for the heart too.
To make matters worse, for those who DO attempt to return to exercise, they’re finding what was once a simple movement or task can feel insurmountable. When it takes so much more effort to move the body, it drains the energy levels. And it’s discouraging, to say the least.
Furthermore, for people who actually contracted COVID and struggle with long haul symptoms, the heart may have taken a hit and breathing can be labored on even the best days.
All of these conditions create the perfect storm for becoming deconditioned. When someone struggles with pain, weakness, and exhaustion, there’s not much desire to exercise. And with no conditioning, they start to struggle with muscle loss and atrophy, as well as joint stiffness. It’s a vicious cycle.
Reconditioning After COVID
Over the past two years, physical therapists have developed exercises to help those struggling with COVID recovery and reconditioning.
The first focus is on breathing deeply through the nose. This sort of intentional respiration restores lung function by strengthening the diaphragm. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system to move into a state of restoration and relaxation.
Movements also focus on activating the vestibular system – which controls balance and sensory input from the body. Simple movements with the eyes and head are the starting point.
Cross body movements such as those done in yoga or Pilates are also essential. These same practices also help to build muscle strength, which is crucial. Ultimately, finding a physical therapist with a Pilates focus can be incredibly effective in reconditioning after COVID.
The ultimate goal is to work toward endurance. By increasing tolerance for physical movement, you’ll become stronger and more fit. It’s a gradual process though. At first, you may feel tired and even a bit breathless. This is normal and should improve as you build strength and gain endurance.
Eventually, you’ll feel better and find that you’re able to re-engage in the activities that are important to you as you notice less pain and stiffness in your body. You may sleep better too.
Once You Get Stronger
When you feel ready (or if you don’t really need intensive work with a physical therapist but want to get back on track) head out and start walking. Walking is a cross body movement and it’s one of the single best ways to work on reconditioning after COVID.
Again, it’s normal to feel tired, sweaty, and a little breathless after walking if you haven’t done it in a while. But it’s important to keep it up to build your fitness level. As long as you can speak a full sentence, you know you’re not overdoing it. Of course, take a break to stop and rest if you need to do so.
Stretching is also hugely beneficial to your reconditioning. Inactivity can result in muscles getting shorter and therefore less flexible. Stretching will restore that flexibility and help with balance. It’s also important to engage in some sort of stretching both before and after physical activity.
You could eventually start adding some resistance training with resistance bands or free weights along with walking. And once you’ve built up enough endurance, you may add running or cycling for 30 minute intervals several days per week.
There’s one more important thing to remember:
Setbacks Are Normal
No path of progress is totally linear. There are going to be proverbial bumps in the road. These are normal and don’t make you a failure.
Some days are going to be better than others. That’s just life. You may find it helpful to keep a record of the times you walk each day to give you visual proof of your progress when you’re having one of those “not so great” days.
And remember that there’s much to learn from challenging times. Setbacks can help you set more realistic goals that you’re more likely to reach without feeling disheartened.
You’ve got this!
Ready to Commit to Better Fitness?
Reconditioning after COVID has been no easy feat. But you’re not alone.
If you’re interested in working with a Pilates-based physical therapy program, or simply looking to bring Pilates into your fitness regimen, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Our highly trained staff of therapists and instructors are here to help you safely re-enter the world of fitness in this (sorta) post-COVID era.