Exercise is essential for your physical and mental health and wellbeing. But what are the current coronavirus exercise rules under the new national lockdown guidelines?
Legislation for the latest lockdown in England, put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, runs until 31 March 2021, to allow for the controlled easing of restrictions back into localised tiers. But what are the new rules on exercise and how do they affect you? Is it safe to exercise if you have been infected with coronavirus?
We speak to former GP and running coach Dr Juliet McGrattan about the latest restrictions on exercise, and how soon you can exercise outdoors if you're recovering from COVID-19:
What are the new rules on exercise in the UK?
According to the latest guidelines under the new national lockdown, as of January 2021 you can do the following:
✔️ Exercise outdoors once a day in your local area, following social distancing guidelines.
✔️ Exercise by yourself, with people you live with, your support bubble, in a childcare bubble where providing childcare, or on your own.
✔️ Exercise with one other person from a different household, though you must stay two metres apart.
✔️ Spend time outdoors in public spaces, including parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests, public gardens, the grounds of a heritage site, and playgrounds.
❗ Children under five, and up to two carers for a person with a disability who needs continuous care, are not counted towards the gatherings limits for exercising outside.
Can I use indoor or outdoor gyms?
According to the latest guidelines under the new national lockdown, as of January 2021 outdoor sports venues, such as golf courses and tennis courts must close. You are not allowed to the following:
✖️ You cannot currently exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre.
✖️ You cannot currently go swimming in a public pool.
Always stay two metres apart from anyone who is not in your household, which includes the people you live with or your support bubble. Where this is not possible, you should stay at least one metre apart and wear a face covering.
Can I exercise with a friend?
When on your own, you can exercise with one other person from outside of your household while practising social distancing. You can also exercise alone, or with members of your household or support bubble.
Are there restrictions on how far I can travel to exercise?
You should not travel outside your local area to exercise. There is only one exception to this. If either you or a person in your care have a health condition that routinely requires you to leave home to maintain your health, and it involves travel beyond your local are, then you are permitted to do so.
Is there any time restriction on exercise?
The government has not put a limit on how long you can exercise for – only that you can exercise once per day. However, the rules state that you should minimise time spent outside your home.
As above, if either you or a person in your care have a health condition that routinely requires you to leave home to maintain your health, and it involves exercising several times a day, you are permitted to do so.
Can I exercise if I have coronavirus?
If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you and anyone you live with must self-isolate until you are no longer infectious. This means you must not leave your home. It's a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive, and you may be fined if you fail to do so.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms started. If you haven't had symptoms, you should self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the test. In this instance, if you get symptoms while you're self-isolating, the 10 days restarts from when your symptoms started.
When recovering from COVID-19, there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself – and some simple steps to set you on your way back to fitness:
How severe was your illness?
Coronavirus seems to be affecting people very differently, from those who have had a few days with a mild fever to those who have been bed-bound for over a week with shivers, aches and relentless coughing. Clearly the time needed to recover from these two situations is very different. We all bounce back from illness at different rates, depending on our age, general health and genetics.
Don't put on a brave face – be honest with yourself about how unwell you have been. The longer you have been unwell and the more serious your experience of coronavirus, then the longer it is going to take you to recover and get back to exercise. It's important to set the right expectations for yourself.
Are you really better?
When you've been stuck in bed, the temptation to throw yourself straight back into exercise can be very strong. You might be worrying about losing your hard-earned fitness or simply long for the fun of your sport. However, it's important to wait until you are really better.
You may need to self-isolate for more than 10 days if certain symptoms do not go away – for example, if you still have the high temperature characteristic of coronavirus. However, if you only have a cough or changes to your sense of smell or taste, you do not need to remain in isolation, as these symptoms can last for weeks after the infection has gone.
If you're still coughing when you're just walking around the house, wait a bit longer before attempting exercise. If you can't trot comfortably up the stairs or have a shower without having to lie down afterwards, then you aren't ready.
Normally, after a flu-like illness, being able to get easily through a normal day at work would be a good guide – but we have a new normal, so you will have to use your judgment. Your breathing should be back to normal, and running up the stairs shouldn't make you cough. If you have been very unwell, it may be several weeks before you feel ready – be patient with yourself.
Is it dangerous to exercise after COVID-19?
Even though your intentions are good, it's best to wait until you are fully better before you restart vigorous exercise. Pushing yourself too hard too soon can be counterproductive. Intense or prolonged exercise sessions can temporarily reduce your immune response so you could, in theory, end up being ill for longer.
When you are ill, your pulse rate is generally a little higher than normal, particularly if you have a high temperature or are a little dehydrated. If you push yourself with vigorous exercise, your heart rate will rise even higher. This can make you feel light-headed, reduce your performance and potentially put you at an increased risk of developing harmful heart rhythms.
If you are unsure whether you are well enough to exercise, it's wise to just wait a few extra days. Pottering around at home, having a slow walk, or doing some stretches are all things you can safely do until you feel ready to get back to more vigorous activities.
5 steps to getting back to exercise after COVID-19
You might feel as if you are starting from scratch, but your fitness will return quickly once you feel better. Follow these steps to help you get back to activity safely:
1.Make sure you are fully better
See the advice above to ensure you're well enough to get started.
2. Take it slowly
Use your common sense and be sensible. Begin with just a short walk. See how you feel and build up gradually from there.
3. Listen to your body
If you begin to feel unwell again or you felt completely wiped out by the activity you did, then just move back a step and try again with something easier when you feel able.
4. Rest and recover
Your body has been busy healing itself from illness. When you add exercise to the mix, it's a good idea to allow a little extra sleep and rest for your body to restore and repair itself.
5. Stay positive
Pace yourself and take things gradually. It might feel like you're taking baby steps at first, but you will be surprised at how quickly you will regain your fitness. Remember that being active will help to keep your immune system in good shape to fight off future infections.
⚠️ For more advice and information on local services during lockdown, visit gov.uk/coronavirus
Last updated: 07-01-2021
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