Irish exercise study gives new hope to sufferers of long Covid

People suffering from long Covid have been given new hope after an Irish study found fatigue, breathlessness and other symptoms improve after six weeks of virtual exercise sessions.

he findings come from Ireland’s first exercised-based recovery program for Covid-19 at St James’s Hospital in Dublin. The study presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Lisbon, Portugal, is an important step in research around long Covid, which affects thousands of people here.

Kate O’Brien, aphysiotherapist at St James’s, said: “Recovery from Covid-19 is complex, with many patients still experiencing persistent symptoms including breathlessness, debilitating fatigue, joint pain, chest pain and much more, weeks, months and, for some people, even years following acute infection.

“These symptoms can be present regardless of how severe their initial infection with SARS-CoV-2 may have been and affect their quality of life, ability to exercise, to work and to resume their normal societal roles.

“Many patients express a wish to get back into exercise but don’t know where to start and are too apprehensive or anxious to try on their own, fearing they may worsen their symptoms.

“Existing exercise classes for patients with other conditions do not cater for their needs and so we designed a specific recovery program for Covid-19 patients.”

The programme, the first in Ireland, involves two 50-minute virtual exercise classes a week, for a minimum of six weeks. Patients carry out circuits consisting of squats, lunges, stretches and other aerobic and strength-based exercises.

The intensity of the sessions increases gradually over time as the patients build up their exercise tolerance.

Some 60 patients – 42pc of them men – with a median age of 45, who were experiencing persistent symptoms at least six weeks after being diagnosed with Covid-19, were referred to the recovery programme. Symptoms included breathlessness on exertion, reduced exercise tolerance and muscle weakness.

Preliminary data on the first 40 patients to complete the program was presented in Lisbon.

Completion of the program led to a significant increase in the distance the participants could walk in six minutes. They were able to walk 34pc further, on average, than at the start of the study – 512.9m versus 382.4m.

Improvements were seen in 93.5pc of patients – defined as being able to walk at least 30m further – the rest experienced no change. The patients also experienced a clinically significant improvement in breathlessness and improvements in quality of life.

Improvements were also seen in areas including ability to carry out everyday activities.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Ireland from the pandemic breached 7,000 yesterday, reaching 7,016.

The overall trend on infections is optimistic although the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital rose yesterday to 535 from 520 on Sunday, possibly due to the weekend effect with a fall expected in the coming days.

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