HOW TO RECOVER LONGEVITY AFTER COVID?
You have read for sure already that COVID is a tricky disease which negatively impacts longevity. But did you know that you can easily measure this impact for your particular situation and take specific recovery steps to minimize the impact? Even reverse it. For FREE. Without medicines or expensive therapy.
How to estimate longevity with VO2Max at home in 5 Min?
Let’s cover some basics first. I wrote the post “How To Cut Your Fitness Age by 30 years” back in January 2021. I was 56 at the time and proudly displayed a screenshot from my Garmin’s smartwatch app (Fig. 1) saying that my fitness age is 20. As I explained in that post, VO2Max is a number which shows how effectively your body processes oxygen. In short: scientists have proven that higher VO2Max translates in higher probability of living longer [1,2].
Precise VO2Max measurements require special lab equipment. However, over the last few years smartwatch manufactures developed software which estimates VO2Max with reasonable accuracy. Also our app BreathNow includes a simple 5 Min VO2Max step test co-developed with the scientists from the University of Cambridge. It uses the iPhone's camera and doesn’t require additional sensors.
The accuracy of these smartwatch VO2Max estimations may not satisfy you if you plan to compete with Eliud Kipchoge in your next marathon. But for us mere mortals it is usually good enough. Understanding your absolute VO2Max number is quite useful. Knowing your VO2Max TREND is CRITICAL if you really care about your health.
My key learnings from the above mentioned post about growing VO2Max are the following: exercise properly, recover well, breathe deeply. But what happens if you get sick?
What happens to VO2Max if you get COVID?
In short: it hits your VO2Max (and your longevity) like a train.
I got sick with COVID on September 20th. This is despite my regular re-vaccinations. It took place right in the middle of relaxing vacations when I was not working out hard or in general stressing much. As you can see on the graph (Fig. 2) my VO2Max tanked after the last measurement on September 11th. Yes, it did drop from the peak value of 54 in January 2021 and stayed around 48 for most of 2022. For a number of reasons I have not exercised extensively since the beginning of 2022. Hence, as expected, VO2Max has dropped .
Yet, the drop from 48 to 45 in the matter of a few weeks is quite dramatic and clearly attributed to me getting COVID.
Despite Garmin suggesting that my fitness age was still 20, in the first two days of illness I felt more like an 80 year old.
After two days I started to feel better and went for a few walks. I felt kind of ok and I started to think about resuming my regular runs.
What is HRV and why should we care?
The graph above (Fig. 3) shows what happened to my HRV (bars represent daily HRV values, dark blue line represents the HRV rolling average). HRV (Heart Rate Variation) demonstrates how our heart rate fluctuates in time.
In very simplistic terms: higher HRV means a more relaxed and healthy mind and body. Lower HRV usually means that the mind and body are under stress and recovery is needed.
The light blue line represents TSS (the amount of workout stress applied to the body).
Here is the interpretation of this graph (Fig 3). After I got sick with COVID both my HRV and my TSS tanked. Which totally makes sense: I needed recovery and I could hardly exercise. At the end of September I started to exercise gently. I felt pretty weak and had to force myself to go for slow, gentle runs.
However, the gradual increase in workload during October was accompanied by the growth in my HRV. Which means that my body was responding favourably to the correct level of workouts.
IMPORTANT: Detailed interpretation of HRV results is a complex topic. There are many apps which deliver this number but their results interpretation in most cases is far from being great. I would recommend this blog  to those who want to understand HRV in detail.
How does Heart Rate fit into the picture?
Three important things about RESTING HR (heart rate) (we will talk only about resting heart rate here) in the scope of this post.1. Resting HR varies from one person to another. Most doctors consider the range between 60 and 100 BPMs (beats per minute) as normal . 2. Someone who does aerobic exercises regularly usually has lower resting HR as compared to untrained individuals. It is not uncommon for a long distance runner to have a resting HR below 50 BPMs. 3. If you are well rested and not stressed out, but experience higher than usual HR, you may be getting sick.
These are the reasons why our BreathNow app includes an HR monitor which takes your heart rate readings with the iPhone’s camera. We recommend our users to take HR readings at least once per day. We also show users how their HRV changed between the two consecutive measurements. This helps to understand how particular activities in the app help users to relax and recover.
Everyone knows that aerobic exercise is good for your health and longevity. So if your resting HR gradually reduces as you exercise more, you know that you are also improving your longevity.
The graph above (Fig. 4, dark blue line shows rolling HR average values) shows that my resting HR visibly increased when I got sick with COVID on September 20th and started to trend down to my usual average of 55BPMs as I gradually increased my exercise workload.
How do you know that your VO2Max will recover to pre-COVID level?
Yes, going back to the VO2Max graph (Fig 2) we can see that my Garmin has not so far recorded an improvement in this indicator. This is not surprising as I am still doing mostly easy runs which put my cardiovascular system under relatively easy stress. The graph above (Fig. 5) shows however, that I am gradually increasing both the volume (overall bar height) and intensity (dark areas of the bars) of my runs.
The most straightforward way to increase VO2Max is in fact to sprinkle long and slow runs with short high speed intervals .
The HRV (Fig. 3) and HR (Fig. 4) graphs show that my body adjusts well to this increase in exercise intensity. It is just a matter of time when I start growing my VO2Max (and my longevity) again.
IMPORTANT: Based on my previous experience of growing VO2Max I know very well that proper rest and recovery are the key elements of success. Luckily, as a founder of BreathNow app I benefited during the recovery from COVID from the extensive use of our own product.
Right after getting Covid I tripled my daily dose of breathing exercises and meditations (from about 30 min daily to over 1.5 hours per day). This helped my mind to stop stressing out about the wasted vacation and my body to start recovering. I kept doing these relaxation exercises for about 1 hour daily through October and it helped my body to adjust the increasing training load. Also regular Deep Sleep breathing helped to enjoy restful night sleep.
I am far from suggesting that everyone who is recovering from Covid should jump straight into interval training to improve their VO2Max and longevity. Covid is a nasty disease and everyone should be super careful how they return to their exercise routine. Also if you experience high blood pressure, IMST breathing exercises is an excellent tool to address this challenge. Agreeing with your doctor on a recovery plan is a must.
Even if you hate to exercise, it is difficult to ignore a SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN [1,2] fact that carefully planned and thoroughly executed INTERVAL training is THE SIMPLEST and THE CHEAPEST (read FREE) way to improve VO2Max and LONGEVITY.
COVID is a nasty disease which severely impacts VO2Max (among other things). Agreeing with your doctor on a recovery exercise PLAN is critical.
SLOW BREATHING and MEDITATION are SCIENTIFICALLY proven tools which assist recovery from stress and illness. One cannot overdose with these exercises trying to feel better and negative side effects are NONE.
1. Frontiers In Bioscience, Landmark, 23, 1505-1516, March 1, 2018. Survival of the fittest: VO2max, a key predictor of longevity? Barbara Strasser, Martin Burtscher
2. .P. Ladenvall, C. U. Persson, Z. Mandalenakis, L. Wilhelmsen, G. Grimby, K. Sva rdsudd, P.-O. Hansson. Low aerobic capacity in middle-aged men associated with increased mortality rates during 45 years of follow-up. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2016;
5. VO2max Trainability and High Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis