Long COVID Restricts Physical Activity: Body Changes Explained

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Understanding the Impact of Exercise on Long COVID

Latest research reveals significant findings that could clarify why individuals suffering from long COVID find it challenging to exercise. The study suggests that COVID-19 can trigger changes that affect certain people at a cellular level. Medical experts recommend that one should pay close attention to the body’s signals when considering exercising with long COVID. Long COVID is a condition that the medical community has acknowledged for years, yet it remains largely enigmatic, especially when it comes to treatment methods.

The Intricacies of Exercise with Long COVID

In a small study published in Nature Communications, researchers analyzed the impact of post-exertional malaise (a state of extreme exhaustion following exercise) in 25 patients with long COVID and others without the condition. The biopsies from patients’ skeletal muscles revealed that their mitochondria – the cell’s “power plants”, were dysfunctional due to long COVID. This resulted in their tissues lacking adequate energy.

Furthermore, the research uncovered that tissue samples from long COVID patients displayed severe muscle damage, an impaired immune response, and the presence of “microclots” or tiny blood clots. The study concluded that the effects of long COVID on the body rendered these patients’ muscles and cells unable to function correctly, with conditions worsening after physical exertion.

Defining Post-Exertional Malaise

It is crucial to differentiate post-exertional malaise from the typical tiredness or muscle soreness experienced post workout. Post-exertional malaise is characterized by symptoms like extreme fatigue and mental cloudiness 12 to 48 hours after even minor physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These symptoms can persist for several days or even weeks.

Why Long COVID Patients Struggle with Exercise

Not everyone with long COVID experiences difficulty with exercise. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with long COVID and find basic physical activities or exercise strenuous, these findings substantiate your challenges as a valid issue. As Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, New York, assures, “This is not in your head.”

While the exact cause of this condition is yet to be pinpointed, some theories suggest that a prolonged inflammatory response triggered by COVID could lead to fatigue, inhibiting your ability to exercise or be as active as before, says William Schaffner, M.D., a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Approaching Exercise with Long COVID

Despite these findings, it is essential to understand that they do not insinuate that individuals with long COVID should avoid physical activity. Instead, the key is mindful movement. According to Dr. Russo, it’s crucial to listen to your body and avoid pushing beyond your limit. He suggests that patients should embrace a gradual workout program, increasing intensity and duration over time. Research indicates that most people with long COVID recover within a year, but recovery is typically a gradual process.

If you suspect that you have long COVID, Dr. Russo recommends seeking the help of your primary care physician. They can rule out other potential causes of fatigue, and possibly redirect you to a long COVID clinic at a major medical center near you.

The latest study findings are considered “very important” and may eventually contribute to a more effective diagnosis and treatment for long COVID.


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