Exercise Intolerance

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Returning to activity and exercise after a COVID-19 infection is an important part of recovery. You may be able to quickly return to your previous activity levels, but you may also need several weeks to months to return to your previous activity level and reach a “new normal.”


Muscles become weaker and people become less fit after illness and extended period of inactivity. Increasing activity is important to strengthen muscles, become fitter and improve overall health and wellbeing. Regular activity will help you minimize pain and stiffness in joints and regain muscle strength. Being active during the day may help you sleep better. Over time, regular exercise will help you manage chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The more time spent being physically active, the greater the health benefits. If you suffer from profound fatigue or Post Exertional Malaise (PEM), it is important to slowly increase levels of activity over the course of weeks to months to prevent regression or a “crash” and to follow the instructions of your health care team.

Three people walking in a park, getting some exercise


Symptoms that appear with shortness of breath may include:

Frequent headaches and/or migraines.

You are quick to reach exhaustion

Activities that were once easy are now challenging (ie climbing a flight of stairs; or : climbing a flight of stairs was once easy and now leave you tired and breathless

Challenges performing activities of daily living such as grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning or bathing.

General weakness



Some people will be able to return to their normal activities quickly and others will have to slowly increase their activity over weeks. When increasing activity after illness, you need to listen to your body. If you feel energized with activity, you’re likely doing a safe amount of activity. If you have significant exhaustion after activity, then you’re probably doing too much and need to scale back and go at a slower pace. Increasing activity after illness is very individualized; there is no one right way.


It’s not harmful to get out of breath when doing physical activity; this is a normal response. However, if you’re too breathless to speak, slow down until your breathing improves. Try not to not get so breathless that you have to stop immediately, and remember to pace your activities.
What does activity look like in my everyday life?


Start slowly and build up your level of activity over time. Try to do little activities frequently, take breaks between them, and don’t overdo it. The following tips may also help:


Reduce sitting time.


Stand up every hour and march on the spot.


Set yourself small goals that you can do throughout the day.


Aim for a daily walk and choose a time of day when you aren’t too tired. Walk with someone until you are confident going out on your own. Try making a walk part of your daily routine to give your day structure. Don’t worry if you need to stop and rest; that’s a normal part of recovering and getting strong again.

Start with just walking for five minutes without stopping (or less if you feel breathless and tired). Gradually build this up by one or two minutes. Once you can do ten minutes without stopping, aim to do two ten-minute walks a day. Once you can achieve three ten-minute walks, aim for two 15-minute walks. Gradually progress to a 30-minute walk. Once you can walk for 30 minutes without stopping, you can begin to build up your speed.

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