Coronavirus and exercise: what the UK government’s new rules mean for you

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Find out more about the current government rules on exercise. Plus, a doctor explains when it is safe to work out after recovering from COVID-19.

By Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB)

Exercise is good for us, not only for our physical health – from maintaining a healthy weight to reducing our risk of some diseases – but also for our mental wellbeing.

On 11 May, the UK government announced the first steps for easing the lockdown, put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, which will affect how and when we exercise. But what are the rules on exercise and how do they affect you? Is it safe to exercise if you have been infected with coronavirus?

We speak to former GP and running coach Dr Juliet McGrattan about the new restrictions on exercise, and how soon is too soon after coronavirus.

What are the new rules on exercise in the UK?

According to the new guidelines, you will be able to do the following from 13 May:

  • exercise outdoors as often as you wish, following social distance guidelines.
  • use outdoor sports courts or facilities, such as tennis or basketball courts or golf courses with members of your household or one other person while staying 2 metres apart.
  • exercise alone or with members of your household.
  • meet one other person from a different household outdoors but must follow social distancing guidelines.
  • spend time outdoors in public spaces while following social distancing guidelines.

Can I use indoor or outdoor gyms?

As with before, you should not do the following:

  • exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, or go swimming in a public pool
  • use an outdoor gym or playground.

Can I exercise with a friend?

You can exercise alone, with members of your household or with one other person from outside of your household while practising social distancing.

Are there restrictions on how far I can travel to exercise?

From 13 May, you can travel to outdoor open spaces for the purpose of exercise irrespective of distance. However, you should not travel with someone outside of your household unless you can practise social distancing, such as by cycling.

Can I use outdoor courts?

Sports courts will reopen from 13 May. You are advised to only use these either alone, with members of your household, or with one other person from outside your household while practising social distancing.

Is there any time restriction on exercise?

The government has not put a limit on how long you can exercise for. However, it says people should still be “minimising time spend away from home and ensuring that you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household”.

Can I exercise more than once a day?

Yes, from 13 May, you can exercise outdoors as often as you wish, following social distancing guidelines.

Should I exercise if I have coronavirus?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you should stay home for 7-14 days.

If you have been struck down with coronavirus, there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself and some simple steps to set you on your way back to fitness after recovering from COVID-19.

How severe was your illness?

Coronavirus seems to be affecting people very differently, from those who have had a few days with a mild fever to those who have been bed bound for over a week with shivers, aches and relentless coughing. Clearly the time needed to recover from these two situations is very different. We all bounce back from illness at different rates too depending on our age, general health and genetics.

We all bounce back from illness at different rates too depending on our age, general health and genetics.

Don’t put on a brave face, be honest with yourself about how unwell you have been. The longer you have been unwell and the more serious your experience of coronavirus, then the longer it is going to take you to recover and get back to exercise. It’s important to set the right expectations for yourself.

Are you really better?

When you’ve been stuck in bed and, the temptation to throw yourself straight back into exercise can be very strong. You might be worrying about losing your hard-earned fitness or simply long for the fresh air and fun of your sport, however, it’s important to wait until you are really better.

If you still have the high temperature characteristic of coronavirus or you’re still coughing when you’re just walking around the house, then you’re going to need to wait a bit longer. If you can’t trot comfortably up the stairs or have a shower without having to lie down afterwards, then you aren’t ready.

Normally after a flu-like illness, being able to get easily through a normal day at work would be a good guide but we have a new normal so you will have to use your judgment. You should have had at least a few days without a fever and your breathing should be back to normal; running up the stairs shouldn’t make you cough. If you have been very unwell, it may be several weeks before you feel ready, just be patient with yourself.

Is it dangerous to exercise too soon?

Even though your intentions are good, it’s best to wait until you are fully better before you restart vigorous exercise. Pushing yourself too hard too soon can be counterproductive. Intense or prolonged exercise sessions can temporarily reduce your immune response so you could in theory, end up being ill for longer.

Even though your intentions are good, it’s best to wait until you are better before restarting vigorous exercise.

When you are ill, your pulse rate is generally a little higher than normal, particularly if you have a high temperature or are a little dehydrated. If you then push yourself with vigorous exercise, your heart rate will have to rise even higher. This can make you feel light headed, reduce your performance and potentially put you at an increased risk of developing harmful heart rhythms.

If you are unsure whether you are well enough to exercise, it’s wise to just wait a few extra days. Pottering around at home, having a slow walk or doing some stretches are all things you can safely do until you feel ready to get back to more vigorous activities.

5 steps to getting back to exercise after COVID-19

You might feel as if you are starting from scratch but your fitness will return quickly once you feel better. Follow these steps to help you get back to activity safely:

Make sure you are fully better

See the advice above to ensure you’re well enough to get started.

Take it slowly

Use your common sense and be sensible. Begin with just a short walk. See how you feel and build up gradually from there.

Listen to your body

If you begin to feel unwell again or you felt completely wiped out by the activity you did, then just move back a step and try again with something easier when you feel able.

Rest and recover

Your body has been busy healing itself from illness and when you then add exercise to the mix it’s a good idea to allow a little extra sleep and rest for your body to restore and repair itself.

Stay positive

Pace yourself and take things gradually. It might feel like you’re taking baby steps at first but will be surprised at how quickly you will regain your fitness. Remember that being active will help to keep your immune system in good shape to fight off future infections.

The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it’s possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you’re in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Net Doctor

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