Exercising With Covid-19 Could Worsen Its Long-Term Effects, Study Says

The stress of working out adds to the stress the virus puts on your heart

Ashley Mateo
Elemental

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Exercisers often push through pain when it comes to minor injuries or colds, but working out with even mild Covid-19 is looking to be a bad move.

According to a study published in JAMA Cardiology, Covid-19 patients are at risk for heart problems. When researchers performed cardiac MRI testing on 100 adults two to three months after Covid-19 recovery, 78 had structural changes to their hearts, and 60 had myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to abnormal heartbeat, heart failure, and sudden death.

Those are serious issues, yet no participant had “serious” Covid-19 cases. Half experienced mild to moderate symptoms, 18% were asymptomatic, and none experienced heart-related symptoms.

What does this have to do with exercise? “Stressing the heart can worsen heart inflammation — and such stress occurs with exercise,” says Richard Wright, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California (unaffiliated with the study). “Covid-19 victims should be rigorously tested to ensure their heart is normal prior to resuming exercise.”

Study author Valentina Puntmann, MD, PhD, recommends Covid-19 patients undergo a cardiac MRI to investigate potential cardiac inflammation. “Until we know more, our advice to our nonprofessional athletes is to take it easy for a minimum of six months,” she says.

Easy doesn’t mean nothing; exercise is still an excellent way to stay healthy. In fact, regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in Covid-19 patients, per research in Redox Biology. Talk to your doctor before restarting workouts, and maybe opt for lower-intensity exercise like gentle cycling, yoga, or just walking.

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Ashley Mateo
Elemental

Ashley Mateo has over a decade’s worth of experience covering fitness and health for publications including the WSJ, Men’s Journal, SELF, and more. @ashleymateo