Rehabilitation in lessening the long-term effects of COVID-19

 

The effects of coronavirus (or COVID-19) has been felt globally with many countries around the world managing the pandemic with varying degrees of success. There is still so much that we have to learn about the coronavirus as it affects people in many different ways.

In a South African context, while many have sadly succumbed to COVID-19, we are also able to celebrate a high recovery rate. However, it is believed that patients who have overcome COVID are often afflicted by mental and physical impairments, often slowing down their complete recovery and general wellbeing.

Exercise has been prescribed as the remedy of choice; it has numerous psychological and physical benefits, can prevent or reduce the onset of chronic ailments, and improve general health.

What are some of the causes and effects of post-COVID-19 recovery?  

The lungs are the main organs affected by COVID-19 infection. Some people may experience only minor respiratory symptoms, while others develop pneumonia, an infection damaging the tiny air sacs (called alveoli) inside the lungs where blood exchanges between oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The air sacs may become filled with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm, fever, chills, and breathing difficulties. Severe cases of coronavirus may result in lung damage, and the possible development of dysfunction in other organ systems, which stems from an intense inflammatory response, called a “cytokine storm2”.

The immune cells produce cytokines to fight infection, but if too many are released, the immune cells flood and attack the lungs; blood vessels leak and blood itself clots. When liver cells are inflamed or damaged, they may produce higher than normal amounts of enzymes into the bloodstream.

Additionally, pneumonia decreases oxygen circulation, which can halt the kidneys from cleaning the blood, and therefore damaging the lining of your intestines.  As a result, several people with COVID-19 have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhoea.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 post-recovery vary from person to person; however, older individuals (over 60 years of age), persons with risks of cardiovascular diseases and underlying health conditions, are more at risk of severe complications than others. Although all age groups are at risk of contracting COVID-19, older people face a significant risk of developing severe illnesses due to physiological changes that come with ageing and potential chronic ailments.

This includes people with coronary heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and/or asthmatics, people with HIV, type 2 diabetes, pregnant women, and people who are obese.

Exercise is the medication of choice

“Exercise is medicine” is an approach towards the improvement of general wellbeing by means of physical activity.

A combination of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises can provide positive results for cardiovascular health, building muscle mass, and fighting fatigue. It also increases blood capillarisation (increase in blood flow to the muscles), improved metabolic exchange (between oxygen and carbon dioxide), releases “feel good” chemicals/hormones (serotonin and dopamine to decrease stress or depression) and increases energy, focus and attention.

It essential for physical activity to be included as one of the modalities of overcoming coronavirus as it prevents a certain degree of upper respiratory tract infections by improving immunity, it enhances an individual’s ability to fight infection, and reduces the risk of the development of chronic illness.

Incorporating physical activity into any post-COVID-19 recovery programme may decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, preserve neuromuscular system integrity, prevent mitochondrial dysfunction and muscle atrophy (muscle wasting).

The Walking with Brandon Foundation’s Therapy and Beyond Centre is made up of a team of five biokineticists, a physiotherapist, speech therapist, and an occupational therapist who are able to tailor-make physical activity programmes according to each patient’s unique needs.

We contribute significantly towards our clients’ rehabilitation by means of health promotion, chronic disease prevention, performance improvement, and the enhancement of their quality of lifestyle.

For more information about our rehabilitative programmes, visit our website at walkingwithbrandon.org, call us on 021 879 2280, or e-mail us at admin@walkingwithbrandon.org.

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