We’re familiar with the lifestyle changes we’ve had to make as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Healthcare providers and scientists have told us to remain masked, wash our hands frequently, practise social distancing, and generally maintain safe actions. We also know how to manage our symptoms if we do contract the disease – but what about afterwards?
In the event that a Sars-CoV-2 infection causes long COVID, how do we continue to live healthy lives and recover?
Long COVID can be tricky to diagnose, but it’s not so difficult to treat unless you have complications. Let’s talk about long COVID and how to live healthy while recovering.
What is long COVID?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed its own clinical definition for long COVID or the post-COVID condition. Per its guidelines, long COVID occurs 3 months after the onset of COVID symptoms, and lasts for at least 2 months. There should be no other probable diagnosis for the condition. 
To put it more simply: if long-term COVID symptoms persist even after you test negative for the virus, then you have a case of long COVID or chronic COVID. These symptoms may persist for weeks, months, to over a year.
Your healthcare practitioner will diagnose you with chronic COVID based on a previous exposure or contraction of COVID-19 plus your existing health history.
Conditions caused by long COVID
Long COVID can manifest in a variety of ways, affecting the different systems of our bodies. The following symptoms are taken from guidelines released by the USA Center for Disease Control  and Johns Hopkins Medicine .
- Respiratory issues
Those who experience moderate to severe cases of COVID may find they have suffered some lung damage. This can cause difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, particularly during periods of physical activity. Even those who experienced mild cases may find themselves more easily winded after some exertion.
- Cardiac conditions
COVID may leave some patients with inflamed heart muscle, which can lead to heart palpitations and chest pain. This inflammation can occur even in those with mild cases.
The virus may also damage the heart by causing cardiomyopathy, a disorder that interferes with your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. In cases where the virus causes lung inflammation, this may lead to insufficient oxygen in the bloodstream, which causes your heart to overwork. 
- Sensory issues
If you contract COVID – particularly the Delta variant – you may suffer from anosmia (loss of smell) and ageusia (loss of taste). The coronavirus can affect cells in the nose, and since the two senses are closely related, both become affected.
People may find that food and drink taste different now, or may not taste of anything entirely. About 1 in 4 people with COVID will suffer one or both of these symptoms, and will see them persist even after recovery. This may lead to loss of appetite and symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Cognitive dysfunctions
Chronic COVID may manifest as brain fog – difficulty thinking or concentrating. Patients may also suffer headaches and lightheadedness, as well as sleep issues such as insomnia.
COVID may also lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression, as the disease and its effects on the body may influence a person’s mental health. 
- Chronic pain
Long COVID may leave persons with chronic joint or muscle pain and body aches.
Managing long COVID symptoms
One key way to combat and recover from long COVID is to ensure you maintain a healthy lifestyle. It may be difficult at first, but persistence and effort will pay off as you see improvement in your mental and physical well-being.
#1 – Adjust your diet
There exists a limited number of studies and trials regarding the consumption of plant-based diets post-COVID. Still, research shows that adopting more plant-based food in your diet reduces the need for anti-inflammatory medication. This could lead to plant-based foods becoming a strategy to tackle systemic inflammation caused by long COVID conditions. 
#2 – Gradually exercise
A study by the NSW Government’s COVID-19 Critical Intelligence Unit showed that exercise programs can improve and benefit movement, muscle strength, and even quality of life in people with long COVID. These persons should begin with low-intensity exercises, such as short walks. They may then gradually increase the intensity based on the improvement of their symptoms. 
#3 – Sleep well
Chronic COVID may interfere with our regular sleeping patterns and habits. You may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or may end up snoozing for much longer than usual. But improving sleep hygiene is essential to recovery and overall health.
Try to be consistent with your sleeping and waking times to regulate your circadian rhythm. Maintain a clean environment, and sleep in a dark room without disturbances. When you wake up, open the curtains or find some way to get some sun to help you feel energised. And try to minimise screen time in the hours before you sleep – the light will keep you up longer. 
#4 – Socialise and return to hobbies
Research has shown that social connections have a positive influence on our personal health. Socialising also reduces the risk of anxiety and depression. The pandemic may have limited in-person interactions, but there are still ways in which you can keep in contact with loved ones so that you do not become isolated. 
#5 – Check in with your healthcare provider
It’s essential that you keep your general practitioner or healthcare provider in the loop regarding your conditions. Note down your symptoms and health history – in particular, when you contracted COVID, what treatments you underwent, what symptoms you suffered, and when you tested negative. Prepare a list of the medications you took or are taking as well.
Be proactive during appointments! Don’t be afraid to ask questions or clarifications so you fully understand your condition. Keep yourself open to potential treatment plans and prescriptions that will help you get better. And of course, keep a record of everything so you can track your recovery. 
Long COVID and recovery
Long COVID can affect your quality of life and cause certain health conditions, but there’s plenty of hope for recovery. Practising healthy habits and adjusting your lifestyle can go a long way towards helping you get better, even little by little. Progress may be slow, but even little improvements should be celebrated.
People can and do recover from chronic COVID and lingering symptoms, even if it takes a while. There’s also plenty of ongoing research that could lead to breakthroughs in treatments. So long as you maintain a healthy lifestyle, long COVID won’t get you down.