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  • FF Team

Long COVID: Using Exercise Therapy to Accelerate Recovery

Do you know someone that is suffering from long COVID, or are you currently suffering from long COVID symptoms?

If so, your not alone..

The stats at the start of 2022 (according to the ONS) for people suffering with long COVID in the UK is estimated to be 1.3 million.

Long COVID has been diagnosed when someone has had on-going symptoms for 4 weeks or longer after their first COVID infection that was not explained by something else.

This is 2.1% of the total population of the UK respectively and is unfortunately growing at a fast rate.

So what are the main long COVID symptoms?

Number of people in the UK with long COVID by symptoms, as of January 2022.

This graphic clearly shows the scope of long COVID symptoms is large and varied, with the most common symptoms being weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath.

As mentioned above 2.1% of the UK population has long COVID, but what actually is the current evidence and recommendations for these 1.3 million people when it comes to exercising with long COVID.

Should long COVID sufferers be exercising or not?

Like all these types of open ended questions, the first answer is “it depends”.

It depends on the person’s personality, education, COVID beliefs, personal identity, exercise history, severity of symptoms, demographic, fitness level, exercise beliefs and much more.

With this said, there have been a few qualitative studies over the last year of the effects of exercise on long COVID patients, which has shown some positive signs that exercise could be of benefit, but there has also been mixed results too.

Many of the studies undertaken have concluded:

  1. The need for greater clarity

  2. Better tailoring of physical activity-related advice

  3. Improved support to resume activities vital to a persons well-being

One study in May 2021 from the University of Leicester and Loughborough University tested 30 patients with long COVID symptoms. They found that a supervised exercise intervention of 2 x per week over 6 weeks was effective in providing the patients with improved symptoms.

The primary benefits found were:

- an improvement in breathlessness,

- Increased energy levels,

- Enhanced exercise capacity,

- Improved cognition,

This ultimately allowed people to do more with less effort than before the 6 week exercise intervention respectively.

What was included in the long COVID exercise program?

The program included aerobic exercise, such as walking or using a treadmill, strength training of the arms and legs, and educational discussion to support symptom management.

Professor Sally Singh, head of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation at Leicester’s Hospitals and senior author of the paper, said..

This adapted rehabilitation program for individuals following COVID-19 has demonstrated promising improvements in clinical outcomes. There were no drop outs due to worsening symptoms and the high completion rate suggests that patients found it to be an acceptable treatment’.

There is no doubt there has been a concern by some clinicians that rehabilitation may worsen or trigger symptoms of post-viral fatigue and that exercise may exacerbate fatigue.

But this has clearly not been shown to be true within this study but actually quiet the opposite, which is positive news for patients.

It looks like there are a couple of key factors for whether a patient gets a positive or negative outcome when participating in an exercise program post COVID, namely the graded nature of the exercise therapy and the level of social support they receive from family and friends to encourage positive behaviour change.

Obviously there needs to be further research into long COVID and exercise therapy with larger population studies to confirm the efficacy of exercise as a non-pharmacological treatment, but initial studies are promising.

So how could our Coaches help you or someone you know with long COVID symptoms exercise safely and effectively?

Here are the stages to a long COVID exercise therapy rehabilitation plan that we can put in place for anyone suffering from long COVID.

Firstly, we arrange a face to face or Zoom consultation to talk in depth for around 60-90mins to analyse current symptoms, lifestyle, past exercise history, goals, nutrition, sleep, stress levels and social support structure. We listen to all the current symptoms being felt by the person and working together start to think about a possible plan of action with all the areas explored above that need to be considered within the plan.

Secondly, we execute a thorough assessment and physical function evaluation to benchmark where the person currently is, to initiate measurements for clear progression and improvement in symptoms over time. This assessment also show us the current level of the person concerned and help guide us in designing a tailored exercise plan over the next 2 months.

Thirdly, a personal plan is designed for the individual by our Coaches using all the insights from the consultation and assessments respectively. The person is then shown the plan and taken through all the finer details to ensure clarity and understanding.

Fourthly, dependant on the agreed personal plan, we then ideally continue to see the person for 1-1 sessions every week either face to face or online. We monitor and track progress and keep a log of the severity of symptoms on a weekly basis.

Finally, once the plan has been completed by the person, a second assessment and evaluation session takes place, where a comparison of the results from the first assessment and the second one is analysed with immediate feedback given on the improvements made by the individual.

A report is then produced for the individual to summarise all the improvements and recommendations for future exercise plans. A decision is then made between the Coach and the person whether to carry forward toward further progress, or to cease the program with the intention of self management to take over.

This integrated holistic health and exercise therapy program as described above, gives the individual a full sense of ownership over the program and their progress over time.

It also allows for the program to be tailored to each persons needs and symptoms, giving the program much higher levels of adherence and less drop outs due to unrealistic expectations.

These benefits ultimately engage the person better and increase the chance of successful outcomes for all involved.

If this privately funded program sounds like it could help you or someone you know, and you would like to talk to a Coach that runs this long COVID program, please get in touch to explore your options here.. and click contact a coach.

Best of health,

FF Team

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