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Recovering From Illness

Recovering from illness: How can physical activity help?

Physical activity can be used to help boost your recovery from illness. It can help if you’ve recently been ill, injured or undergone any form of treatment or surgery. For those on a prescribed rehabilitation program, our four step recovery plan can tie in nicely with these.

Whether it’s recovery from a seasonal flu-like illness, or managing a longer term condition, it’s very important to ensure you’re adding some light exercises into your day to help with your recovery.

If you want to read more about the benefits of physical activity when recovering, read on. Alternatively, click the link below to jump straight to the four step recovery plan.

Sports rehabilitation
Recovering from illness with exercise

Why is it important to exercise when recovering from illness?

When you’re ill, or beginning to recover, thinking about movement or exercise might be the last thing on your mind. We get it; a bed day sounds far more inviting than going for a run if you feel terrible. But think about it like this: the longer you stay still, the harder it will be to get going again.

You need to rest to recuperate on your recovery journey. However, it’s also important to make the effort to break up long spells of resting. This will stop your muscles from losing too much strength.

The process of physically weakening and losing muscle strength is called deconditioning. It’s something that happens naturally as we age. However, a long illness which results in you lying down for a long time can bring on muscle deterioration more rapidly than you might think.

Physios recommend making movement part of your day, little and often, to avoid deconditioning.

Wrist exercises
Woman stretching in bed

What to do if I’ve recently been diagnosed with Coronavirus?

If you’ve recently contracted symptoms or been diagnosed with COVID-19 or any other winter illness, it’s important to follow all government and medical advice to ensure your swift recovery, including their guidelines on your self isolation period. During this time you should only exercise at home, and should avoid leaving the house.

For more information, check out our full guidance on how exercise can be used to aid your recovery from Coronavirus.

What if I’ve just had treatment or surgery?

If you’ve recently undergone a treatment program, or had surgery, it’s important to follow any medical advice you’ve been given to ensure a swift recovery.

You should only do as much as you feel able to following your operation or treatment. It is common to feel very tired, and other symptoms such as nausea and pain may accompany your fatigue. With this said, it’s important to try and begin moving again as soon as possible.

Not only will this reduce your risk of deconditioning, but can prevent other complications. These include blood clots, weight gain and further illness.

Frequently asked questions:

Below we’ve answered some frequently asked questions about exercising whilst recovering from illness.

The recommended advice is always to aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise, even with an illness. However, this is entirely dependent on how you feel – you should aim for small bursts of physical activity in 5-10 minute sessions.

If you feel comfortable with this, then gradually increase the time you spend exercising. Remember, if something hurts then stop.

Recovery from COVID-19 will take time. The length of time needed will vary from person to person and it is important not to compare yourself to others.

Post-COVID-19 effects could include:

  • Muscle weakness and joint stiffness
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue) and a lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with mental abilities – for example, not being able to remember some events, think clearly and being forgetful
  • Changes in your mood, or anxiety or depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Remember to start small and listen to your body as you take on more exercise – if something hurts, stop or modify it.

Whilst COVID-19 is still relatively new and there’s quite a lot we don’t understand, there are a lot of resources available.

Below are a few guides and links to check out if you need support in recovering from Coronavirus:

The NHS has some useful resources on getting back to normal after an operation which provides information and advice about recovering from specific procedures.

You can also check whether there’s a leaflet containing information on recovering from a specific surgical procedure.

Before undertaking anything new, you should try to fully complete any advised rehabilitation programs your doctor has recommended. These have been designed by medical professionals and will be the best aid for your recovery.

Examples include:

Your doctor should be able to recommend tailored rehabilitation plans for you upon completion of your treatment. Once your rehab program is complete, you can undertake the four step programme below to keep active and build up your strength.

Deconditioning doesn’t only happen when you’re ill or recovering. It can also happen if your lifestyle suddenly changes, and you become more sedentary.

This is a much higher risk since the COVID-19 lockdowns as more and more people are staying at home and missing out on their daily exercise. For this reason, it’s important to ensure you’re being physically active wherever you can.

If you need inspiration on where to go outdoors, check out our Active Outdoors page, where we’ve listed links to lots of resources where you can exercise safely outdoors. However, if you’d rather stay active from home, our Active at Home page has lots of resources to keep you moving from your living room, no matter your age or ability.

Man hugging dog
Woman sat on floor
Old man's shoes

Recovering from illness: The four step recovery plan

Whether you’re recovering from a recent illness, injury or treatment, it’s important to move around as much as possible (little and often!) to keep physically active and speed up your recovery.

With this in mind, we’ve listed a four-step recovery plan, which will help you to build up your strength. These are suitable for all ages and abilities, and are gentle enough that they should not be too strenuous.

If at any stage you feel fatigued or overworked, stop and let your body rest. You can always try again the next day.

Step One: Still in bed, very weak

This is a crucial time to take it steady and ensure you don’t overdo it. Your body needs rest to recover, but there are movements you can do from your bed to keep up your strength and flexibility.

Moving Medicine has created a great workbook to outline gentle exercises and stretches you can do from your bed, including pictures and top tips.

Tips for taking on the four step plan:
• Stay within your ability and don’t overdo it
• Break tasks down into chunks and rest in between each task.
• Build up gradually – start with small movements and increase each day
• If you start to feel fatigued, slow down or decrease your movements – but don’t give up!

Step Two: Moved to the sofa, still low energy

Once you feel well enough to move around the house a little, this is a great sign. Moving on from the Bed Exercises, this Moving Medicine standing exercise programme takes you a little further to include stamina, flexibility and strength exercises.

Step Three: Ready for a structured programme

As your energy starts to return, you can introduce a more structured regime into your day. This can be a 10-15 minute session per day, ensuring you listen to your body and take it easy if you begin to feel unwell or fatigued.

We’ve worked with EPIC to create a series of exercise videos that are structured to help you maintain strength, balance and flexibility so you reduce your risk of having a fall, and these types of exercises will work well in aiding your recovery.

There are three levels, starting with seated exercises and working up to standing exercises.

Step Four: Ready for more

This is the stage at which you’re hopefully beginning to feel a little better, and ready for activity.

Once you’re feeling a bit stronger and want to progress, there are lots more resources to try within our Active at Home hub. You can tailor all these activities to your abilities, and do them seated if required.

Remember, recovering from illness can be a long road, and you may feel more tired on some days. This is fine, just stay positive and keep at it.