Give yourself a month: a guide to COVID-19 recovery
Finally, a single line next to the “C” on your RAT – you’re COVID-free!
Whether you have a forceful case of FOMO after seeing your friends’ photos while you’ve been out of action or you’re happy to continue hunkering down, here’s what you should (and should not) be doing after you’ve fought off the initial infection.
After seven days spent fighting off COVID-19 in isolation, how soon can you return to normal programming?Credit: Justin McManus
Exercise: Slow and steady
Most of us don’t need an excuse to avoid running a gruelling 42-kilometre race, but infectious diseases physician at Canberra Hospital Peter Collignon reinforces a gradual return to high intensity activities.
“Listen to your body but not totally,” he says, adding that you should get outside as soon as you’ve knocked the virus. “Jog for a kilometre instead of running a marathon.”
Collignon says it can take weeks to build back the muscle tone lost from one week spent in bed, and your stamina will have taken a hit, so don’t overdo it.
A graduated program – one where you slowly increase the intensity of your activity – is the right approach. And it doesn’t have to be one that’s professionally crafted, as long as you’re taking it slow.
“The bottom line is, don’t do nothing,” he says.
Diet: Can I crack open a cold one?
Professor Nicole Lee from Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute says it’s best to cut out or significantly reduce alcohol during recovery because it puts a strain on the system.
“If you are trying to allow your body to recover from a physical illness, having alcohol on board will make it a little bit more difficult,” she says. “It’s a toxin to the system and creates dehydration.”
“It’s a toxin to the system and creates dehydration.”
She says a common misconception is that alcohol helps you sleep – it does the opposite. “Initially, it makes you feel sleepy because it’s a depressant but because of the dehydration and a range of other factors, it’ll disturb your sleep a bit later and you’ll often wake up multiple times during the night.”
Collignon agrees that people should decrease their alcohol consumption while recovering, and adds that you should have a well-balanced diet with lots of vegetables, and with limited sugar and fat.
Lee says it’s especially important to stay hydrated when recovering from a flu or COVID and recommends drinking either sparkling or tap water.
Vitamins: Are they worth it?
While inexpensive vitamins from the chemist won’t do any harm, Collignon says they are unlikely to provide any additional benefits if you were on an otherwise reasonably balanced diet. Instead, he recommends getting out into the sun.
“You don’t want to get sunburned but sunshine is a good way of getting adequate vitamin D,” he says. “You’re more likely to have problems if your vitamin D levels are down.”
Collignon recommends getting out into the fresh air rather than taking vitamin D supplements.
Out and about: When can I do the grocery shopping and see my friends?
As soon as possible after your isolation period provided you have no symptoms. Everyday activities such as doing the grocery shopping are good because you walk around and use your arms and legs.
High-intensity activities, however, should be approached with caution to avoid overdoing it, says Collignon. Even if you’re feeling a bit flat after isolation, he advises you should at least do a bit of walking outside. “Listen to your body but not if it makes you feel like doing nothing.”
And socialising as much as possible and getting back to doing things you enjoy is important for your mental health. “If you don’t do anything, you run the risk of being depressed, and that compounds on any underlying medical illness or problem you might have,” Collignon says. “Get back into daily activities because you’ll feel mentally better and that helps your health overall. Your medical psyche affects your physical ability to do things.”
Still not 100 per cent: Should I be worried?
If you have symptoms after three months, that’s suggestive of long-COVID. But Collignon says we often don’t feel back to our normal selves for at least a month after an illness like influenza or COVID, and that there can be ups and downs.
“People can feel good for a couple days, then feel down a bit,” he says. “But gradually you have less downs and more ups. It’s not a straight line to improvement, but the trend should be one of improvement.”
It’s better to compare how you feel from one week to the next, and you should only feel concerned if you haven’t improved after a month. If you still feel knocked around after two months, that’s when you should start seeking help because it can take a while to see a professional.
Collignon’s final words of advice: “do the things that your mother told you” – that is, decrease your alcohol consumption and think about your diet.
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