SEATTLE -- Exercise sounds like the last thing someone should do after testing positive for COVID-19, but physical therapists at UW Medicine say moving is critical to prevent one of the deadliest side effects of the disease.
The team worked on short exercise videos specifically for COVID-19 patients for use for several weeks. Most are simple movements like using a straw to blow on a cup and move it across a table, leg stretches at the end of the bed or chest-opening exercises.
"Once they get the diagnosis, often times, they’ve already had symptoms for 5-days so they’re hitting that critical window," says physical therapist Hilary Pentz.
Moving in moderation, even coughing with control, can stop the virus from taking hold in the lungs.
One of the greatest fears from COVID-19 is it will develop into pneumonia.
“You will cough with these exercises, but it’s OK as long as that cough feels like it’s productive moving mucus,” says physical therapist Adrienne Kishimoto.
Exercising is the opposite of what we saw in hospitals in the early weeks of the outbreak, when many people were isolated in their hospital beds and homes.
“Our belief system is that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved should they have kept moving," says Pentz.
The team has now spent two weeks working with 10 COVID-19 patients and so far, none have developed pneumonia, Pentz says.
Pentz and Kishimoto hope to help health workers in at least 40 states develop similar plans for their patients.