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By LifeBridge Health

Sedentary lifestyles have been common during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But with the availability of vaccines increasing and restrictions starting to ease, it might be a good time to (safely) get into the workout groove.

If you’re planning to hop off the couch and resume (or start) fitness routines after an extended break, don’t push yourself too hard in the beginning, especially when it comes to running.

“There are a lot of good programs, including Couch to 5K or C25K, that focus on increasing running slowly up to about 3 miles or 30 minutes,” says Grace “Annie” Neurohr, DPT, OCS, CMTPT, a physical therapist and running and bio-motion specialist for the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics’ (RIAO) running program at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. “Depending on what your goals are, I typically recommend adding in a run up to three times per week and giving yourself at least one day of rest between each day to avoid overtraining.”

When determining initial running goals, your current health status, the length of your time off from general exercise and how much time you can devote to training should be taken into consideration. “For most individuals, a goal of a 5k or 3-mile distance is a good place to start,” Neurohr says. “You can further challenge yourself by trying out more challenging terrain such as trail running or hill intervals.”

Avoiding injury

The most common mistakes new and returning runners make is ramping up mileage too quickly and running too far, which often lead to overuse injuries like stress reactions and tendinopathies. Therefore, it’s best to start out with a gradual walk/run interval program. It’s also a good idea to see a specialist who can assess your injury risk and recommend specific accessory exercises that can help you avoid injuries, particularly if you have a history of overuse injuries or had orthopedic surgery in the past.

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Keep track

In addition to a comfortable pair of shoes, consider wearing a smart watch with a heart rate monitor and GPS capacity on your runs to track your exertion levels and progress with distance. “Often, these watches can give further insight into VO2max, a key marker for fitness tracking as you build endurance,” Neurohr says.

What if you’ve had COVID-19?

If you’ve had COVID-19, be it weeks or several months prior, it’s that much more important to avoid overexertion. Shortness of breath, heart rate and oxygen saturation throughout exercise should be carefully monitored as there have been cases of pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs) occurring up to several months after a COVID-19 diagnosis. “While this is rare, these can be life threatening even in active, fit individuals,” Neurohr says.

You may need to obtain clearance from your healthcare provider before returning to regular exercise.

“Those with underlying heart or lung conditions or who required hospitalization for COVID-19 symptoms need medical clearance,” Neurohr says. “Otherwise, if you had a very mild case and have been symptom free for at least seven days, you likely can initiate a light exercise program.”

Any cardiovascular or pulmonary condition warrants consultation with your medical provider. “I advise even young, healthy adults who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past few months to consult with their physician prior to returning to vigorous exercise like running,” Neurohr says.

If you want to schedule a running assessment or learn more about the RIAO running clinic, call Annie at 410-601-4353 or email her at gneurohr@lifebridgehealth.org. You can also follow her on Instagram at pace_doctor for more running rehab tips.

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