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
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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.
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