YouUntil recently, running was a major part of Emma Zimmerman’s life. The 26-year-old freelance journalist and graduate student was a competitive distance runner in college and, even after graduating, ran about 50 miles per week. So she tried temporarily to return to her running routine about a week after a possible case of COVID-19 in March, doing her best to shake off the malaise that followed her initial allergy-like symptoms. Every so often, though, “I end up stuck in bed with a serious level of severe fatigue,” Zimmerman says.
Months later, Zimmerman still experiences health problems including tiredness, migraines, brain fog, nausea, numbness and sensitivity to screens — a cluster of symptoms that led doctors to diagnose her with long-term COVID. Although she can’t know for sure, she fears her condition may get worse in the early stages of her recovery process.
“I didn’t know I needed to rest as hard as I needed to try to relax,” she says.
Stories like Zimmernan—sickness, recovery, exercise, accidents—are common in a long post-COVID world. And they highlight what many researchers, patients and advocates say is one of the most powerful tools to manage, and potentially even prevent, long COVID: Rest.
The only guaranteed way to avoid long COVID is not to get infected with SARS-CoV-2. But if someone does get sick, “rest is incredibly important to give your body and your immune system a chance to fight off acute infections,” says Dr. Says Janna Friedley, who was cured of Long COVID herself. “People are fighting through it thinking it’ll go away in a few days and they’ll get better, and that doesn’t really work with COVID.”
Researchers are still learning a lot about long-term COVID, so it’s impossible to say with certainty whether rest can actually prevent its development – or, conversely, whether premature activity causes complications. But strangely enough, Friedley says that many of the tall COVID patients she sees are working women whose families rush to get back to normal as soon as possible. It’s hard to give one-size-fits-all guidance on how much rest is enough, but Friedley advises anyone recovering from COVID-19 to abstain from high-intensity exercise for at least a couple of weeks. And avoid overeating.
For people who have already developed chronic COVID, rest may also be useful for managing symptoms including fatigue and post-exercise malaise (PEM), or crashes after physical, mental, or emotional exertion. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended ,pacing“An activity-management strategy involves rationing activity and adding it to rest to avoid overeating and worsening symptoms.
In an international study Published last year, researchers asked more than 3,700 long runners about their symptoms. About half said they found it at least somewhat helpful for symptom management. Meanwhile, when other researchers surveyed nearly 500 long runners for A study published in April, the overwhelming majority said that physical activity worsened their symptoms, had no effect, or brought mixed results. This may be because long-lasting damage to the mitochondria, which is the energy cells can use, Recent research shows,
Long before COVID existed, researchers and patients encouraged rest and pacing for Management of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Hallmark symptoms of the condition include PEM and severe, long-lasting fatigue—the diagnostic criteria that many people with long-term COVID-19 now meet. one discovery A study published in January of more than 200 people with chronic COVID-19 found that 71% had chronic fatigue and about 60% had experienced PEM.
For years, physicians tried to treat ME/CFS patients by gradually increasing their physical activity levels. but that practice has since been shown Not only ineffective, but often harmfulBecause of cellular dysfunction, people with ME/CFS “have a unique and pathogenic response to over-exertion”, explains Jaime Seltzer, director of scientific and medical outreach at the advocacy group MEAction. Most people with ME/CFS prefer movement to exercise-based therapy, A 2019 study found,
To speed effectively, people must learn to pick up on the signs they’re overdoing it and overcome underlying ideas about productivity, Seltzer says. “If you’re doing laundry, for example, there’s nothing that says you have to fold every single item in one sitting,” she says. Breaking down tasks may seem strange, but it can be important for conserving energy.
People with new chronic COVID symptoms should keep a log of their diet, activity, sleep, and symptoms for a few weeks to identify their triggers, Friedley says. Seltzer says that for those who can afford one, a fitness tracker or other wearable can also be helpful in assessing how much exertion is too much. Once someone has an idea of behaviors that improve or worsen symptoms, they can use that information to plan their days and break down activities into manageable parts.
For many people who test positive for COVID-19, however, taking a few days off to unwind from work is also a financial and logistical challenge. Many people have no choice but to return to physically taxing work or responsibilities like child care as soon as possible. “Comfort is a whole lot of advice that is socioeconomic and politically weighted,” Seltzer says.
People with prolonged COVID or ME/CFS may be able to secure a place to live, such as working from home, taking on a role that can be done sitting instead of standing, or if necessary, for a disability to request. Seltzer also suggests leaning on friends, faith groups or mutual aid networks for help with certain tasks. In addition, Friedley recommends looking for creative ways to use less energy throughout the day. When she was living with COVID symptoms for a long time, she bought several pairs of identical socks so that she would never have to waste time and effort looking for a match.
“It may sound small,” she says, “but if you add to it throughout the day, how much energy you’re expending can make a big difference.”
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