CW: There’s some discussion of weight and weight loss in these stories.
Here on the blog we’ve written lots about exercising from home because gyms are closed and about other indirect effects of the pandemic on how we workout. I’ve also written about exercise and how it might affect one’s immune response.
But I’ve been wanting to write about exercise and people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. I was reminded of it again when this passed through my newsfeed: Exercise After Covid-19? Take It Slow.
Jordan D. Metzl writes, “For the past 20 years, when patients asked me about exercising while recovering from a viral illness like the flu, I gave them the same advice: Listen to your body. If exercise usually makes you feel better, go for it.
Covid-19 has changed my advice.
Early in the pandemic, as the initial wave of patients with Covid-19 began to recover and clinically improve, my colleagues and I noticed that some of our patients were struggling to return to their previous activity levels. Some cited extreme fatigue and breathing difficulties, while others felt as if they just couldn’t get back to their normal fitness output. We also began to hear of a higher than normal incidence of cardiac arrhythmias from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart and, in rare cases, cause sudden cardiac arrest. Other complications like blood clots were also cropping up.
What was most surprising is that we saw these problems in previously healthy and fit patients who had experienced only mild illness and never required hospitalization for Covid-19.
In my sports medicine practice, a cyclist in her 40s with recent Covid-19 symptoms had leg pain that was abnormal enough to warrant an ultrasound, which showed near complete cessation of blood flow because of arterial and venous blood clots in both legs. Thankfully, our team caught these early enough that they didn’t spread to her lungs, which ultimately could have killed her. Recently, a college student in Indiana with Covid-19 died from a blood clot that traveled to her lungs. As the pandemic has evolved, we’ve learned of a much higher risk of blood clots from people who contract the virus.”
That’s just an except. It’s worth reading the whole thing.
Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.
What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends in their 40s-60s. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.
At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.
I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.
Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19
Here’s the first two:
Patricia is 62, lives in London, Ontario and she rows, skis, golfs, plays tennis, trail runs and cycles. We know each other through masters rowing.
“I was surprised that I got it. I took all precautions. I had a mild case according to the Health Unit. I thought my allergies were playing up. My eyes were sensitive to light and I had a tightening in my chest. I had night sweats (I thought menopause was rearing its ugly head yet again). Apparently I had a low grade fever. I developed a cough that lasted about a month and lost my sense of taste and smell. I found I was winded easily and that lasted for months. My sense of taste and smell have never fully come back yet. I was in direct contact with an individual who had Covid on March 18th. My cousin passed away from it at the end of March.”
Heather lives in Kansas City, USA and she’s a 46 year old Triathlete/Road Runner/Mountain Climber/Zwift Racer/Cyclist. She’s on Sarah’s Zwift bike team.
“My health story really began when I was a young woman (22). I was taking birth control pills and ended up throwing a blood clot to my brain, it was misdiagnosed as a migraine and ended up hemorrhaging causing a major stroke. Being at risk for blood clots is something that is always in the back of my head… too much weight -can cause blood clots. Smoking – can cause blood clots, drinking too much – can cause blood clots. Having babies, having too low a heart rate, being too inactive… pretty much all can lead to blood clots. So when COVID-19 came out to show that every autopsy of those who died with the disease had blood clots throughout their system, I felt I could really not do well if I get it.
In May (3 months into the pandemic) I decided that sitting on the couch and stress eating my way through the lock downs was not going to set me up for successfully fighting COVID. I started really focusing on dropping the extra 20lbs I had acquired and strengthen my body to give it a fighting chance. I used My Fitness Pal to track my calories and used the input vs output method of dieting. I started signing up for challenges that pushed me – 30 day cycling challenge to complete 500 miles. Climb Mt. Everest Challenge to climb/run/hike or bike 29,029 ft. In 50 days… These challenges along with the calorie watching allowed me to take off the 20lbs and get strong. My doctor put me on a prophylactic low dose blood thinner in anticipation of getting COVID and I just continued to be as healthy, fit and strong as I could be.
I ended up contracting COVID 19 in the first week of October. Coming in, my fitness level was strong. My doctor advised that I not push my heart rate past zone 2 for the 10 day isolation period. That was a long and hard 10 days of being sedentary. I rode one Zwift race and I kept my heart rate down under zone 2 and it took me twice as long to finish as the rest of my team (but I got them a point!).
My case was a mild case. I had a total of 3 hours of low grade fever, nasal congestion and the typical loss of taste and smell. After 10 days I felt like I was good to go. My doctor gave me the green light to get my heart rate up again and when I did I found the result was as if I didn’t have any fitness built up. My max heart rate was nearly 20 points higher than it had been 2 weeks prior. I struggled holding speed and stamina and began to think maybe COVID did affect me.
It has been 5 weeks since I was released to work my body as hard as I want and it has been a slow come back. I race twice a week and ride two more times a week. I walk and run hills and with every effort I am watching what my heart is doing. It is slowly coming down and I am able to hang on longer, recover by dropping the heart rate faster and push the way I want to push.
I consider myself lucky to have had a good outcome having had COVID and would caution any athlete to not fight through this one by pushing your body.”
This afternoon Michelle Goodfellow shares her story about testing positive for COVID-19.