So far no medically recognised treatment exists for long Covid, defined by the US Centres for Disease Control as “a constellation of other debilitating symptoms”. It includes brain fog, muscle pain, and fatigue that can last for months after a person recovers from the initial infection.
Long Covid can also cause depression, and increase blood glucose levels to the point where people develop diabetic ketoacidosis – a potentially life-threatening condition common among people with Type 1 diabetes, said researchers in the study published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
For example, a person may not get very sick from Covid-19, but six months later, long after the cough or fever is gone, they develop diabetes.
“Exercise can help. Exercise takes care of the inflammation that leads to elevated blood glucose and the development and progression of diabetes and clinical depression,” said Candida Rebello, a research scientist at Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in the US.
“We know that physical activity is a key component to a healthy life. This research shows that exercise can be used to break the chain reaction of inflammation that leads to high blood sugar levels, and then to the development or progression of Type 2 diabetes,” added Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, who is also a co-author of the paper.
Exercise may also cut Covid’s effect on heart health. Some of the symptoms common in long Covid patients include palpitations, dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath – these may be due to heart problems.
The question remains how much exercise is enough?
“You don’t have to run a mile or even walk a mile at a brisk pace,” Rebello said.
“Walking slowly is also exercising. Ideally, you would do a 30-minute session of exercise. But if you can only do 15 minutes at a time, try to do two 15-minute sessions. If you can only walk 15 minutes once a day, do that. The important thing is to try. It doesn’t matter where you begin. You can gradually build up to the recommended level of exercise,” she said.