Article Text

Original research
Long COVID and the role of physical activity: a qualitative study
  1. Helen Humphreys1,2,
  2. Laura Kilby3,
  3. Nik Kudiersky2,
  4. Robert Copeland1,4
  1. 1Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
  2. 2Sport and Physical Activity Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
  3. 3Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
  4. 4National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Helen Humphreys; H.Humphreys{at}


Objectives To explore the lived experience of long COVID with particular focus on the role of physical activity.

Design Qualitative study using semistructured interviews.

Participants 18 people living with long COVID (9 men, 9 women; aged between 18–74 years; 10 white British, 3 white Other, 3 Asian, 1 black, 1 mixed ethnicity) recruited via a UK-based research interest database for people with long COVID.

Setting Telephone interviews with 17 participants living in the UK and 1 participant living in the USA.

Results Four themes were generated. Theme 1 describes how participants struggled with drastically reduced physical function, compounded by the cognitive and psychological effects of long COVID. Theme 2 highlights challenges associated with finding and interpreting advice about physical activity that was appropriately tailored. Theme 3 describes 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. Theme 4 illustrates the battle with self-concept to accept reduced function (even temporarily) and the fear of permanent reduction in physical and cognitive ability.

Conclusions This study provides insight into the challenges of managing physical activity alongside the extended symptoms associated with long COVID. Findings highlight the need for greater clarity and tailoring of physical activity-related advice for people with long COVID and improved support to resume activities important to individual well-being.

  • public health
  • qualitative research
  • rehabilitation medicine
  • COVID-19

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors RC initiated the idea for the study. HH designed the protocol and secured ethics for the study with support from RC. NK undertook stratification of database participants. HH undertook recruitment including invitations to take part, provision of participant information and collecting written informed consent. HH carried out all interviews. HH and LK undertook initial data analysis and developed preliminary coding frameworks. HH, LK and NK reviewed and refined themes with oversight from RC. HH prepared the manuscript, and all authors edited and revised the final version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Complete transcripts are not available as they pose a risk to participant confidentiality. All other study materials are available upon reasonable request.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.