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05 May 2021

Hallam publishes first qualitative study into the role of physical activity and long Covid

Academics from Sheffield Hallam University have published the first qualitative study exploring the role that physical activity plays in the experiences of people living with long Covid. 

Press contact: Nicky Swire | nicky.swire@shu.ac.uk

The Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre

The study, which has been published in the BMJ, will help to inform the design and implementation of rehabilitation support and illustrates how physical activity can impact the management of long Covid.

It gives an insight into the challenges of carrying out physical activity alongside the wide range of ongoing symptoms associated with long Covid. 

The findings highlight the need for greater clarity and tailoring of physical activity-related advice for people with persistent Covid-19 symptoms, particularly fatigue, and improved support to resume activities that are important for people’s wellbeing.

This includes help for people to monitor and manage any changes in symptoms as physical activity is increased over time; a multi-disciplinary approach to recovery planning, addressing physical and psychological wellbeing; and access to specialist long Covid support for people across the UK. 

Four themes for the lived experience of long Covid emerged from the study, based on semi-structured interviews with 18 participants, including:

The drastically reduced physical function experienced by many people with long Covid which is also compounded by the cognitive and psychological effects 
The challenges associated with finding and interpreting advice about physical activity that was appropriately tailored to the experience of long Covid 
The individual approaches to managing symptoms, including fatigue and ‘brain fog’ while trying to resume and maintain activities of daily living and other forms of exercise
The battle with identity to accept reduced function (even temporarily) and the fear of permanent reduction in physical and cognitive abilities

Dr Helen Humphreys, project lead and researcher in health and wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Our study illustrates how challenging living with long Covid can be for many people and the urgent need for more research into this condition. Physical activity is critical to people’s wellbeing whilst they manage what is often an unpredictable and protracted recovery with a wide range of possible symptoms. The novelty of this condition means that clear medical and scientific advice has not been available for many people; we need to accelerate our understanding of the condition to ensure that people get the right advice to continue or resume those activities that are important for their individual lives.” 

Long Covid is defined as symptoms lasting greater than 12 weeks. It appears to be a multisystem disease ranging in severity, frequency and duration. 

Whilst the majority of people infected with Covid-19 recover within weeks, it is estimated that one-in-10 experience the persistent symptoms associated as long Covid, irrespective of age and underlying health conditions. 

The study was led by Dr Helen Humphreys with support from Dr Laura Kilby and PhD student Nik Kudiersky. It forms part of the RICOVR unit, based at Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, which works to provide knowledge and support to help people recover and rehabilitate from the effects of Covid-19. 

 

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