Having recovered from two bouts of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the first being a pretty heavy neurological situation that hospitalised me in November 2020, and the latest being infected by the thankfully milder Omicron variant that’s been rife throughout the UK from December 2021. I thought I’d share my science-based recovery routine that’s helped me quickly move through the worst of it and out the other side with no known side-effects, no long COVID and a healthy dose of natural immunity.
N.B. This isn’t medical advice. Rather a personal record of what has worked for me having reviewed scientific literature on how COVID-19 affects the mind and body and how to mitigate risks of worsening. I’m sure they’ll work for you too, but quite frankly, I’m surprised there isn’t more of these recovery guides for people to follow as it seems like the sole focus is on vaccinations. Whilst we know that vaccinations are keeping the more vulnerable out of hospital and have significantly reduced mortality rate, there are still ~20% of the eligible UK population who aren’t fully vaccinated (Source). Here’s hoping this helps you prepare well and recover swiftly from the virus, and, some of this routine I continue to practice in order to prevent future illness by strengthening my immune system all year round.
A reminder that, at its worst, the mortality rate of those who died within 60 days of a positive COVID-19 test was ~160 per 100,000 people in the UK (0.16%) between July 2020 – July 2021. The vast majority of those deaths have been in people aged 60+. (Source: NHS) representing a total population survival rate of 99.84% which would rise to over 99.9% in those under the age of 60.
Let’s get to it! I’ll run through a chronological step-by-step process from as soon as I wake up in the morning. Here’s a TL;DR version of the COVID-19 recovery routine:
Amazon Shopping List (Affiliated)
- Rio – Hot Facial Steamer (£24.99)
- Beary Quiet – Nasal Strips (£11.99)
- Vitamin D3 + K2 Tablets (£12.99)
- 15mg Zinc Supplement (£14.99)
- Handheld Nebuliser Machine (£33.29)
- Hypertonic Saline Solution (£19.99)
Make The Morning Count
Wake up ~08:00am
First things first, whilst it isn’t so glamorous, sleep is one of the most important weapons we have in our COVID-19 arsenal because during sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines are important for fighting infections and inflammation – and help us respond to stress. When we don’t get enough sleep or our sleep is disrupted, our bodies produce fewer of these important cytokines.
The body is run by cycles and rhythms that help regulate hormones and energy levels, and it likes routine. Making sure you try and get up at a similar time around 08:00am every day will play into the hands of your circadian rhythm and keep the all-important homeostasis.
Drink 500ml of water
If you don’t already, you really should be drinking water first thing in the morning. Drinking water first thing in the morning flushes out the stomach and therefore balances the lymphatic system. A stable lymphatic system will help build a strong immune system, which will prevent us from getting sick as often. Down it in one!
If you’re suffering from fever during COVID-19 illness, your body will need to replace water at a higher rate but a general rule of thumb to follow is to drink 30ml per kg of body weight per day – so if you weigh ~60kg then a minimum of 1.5 litres of water and if you weigh 80kg then a minimum of 2 litres of water per day.
Hot steamer session
One of my favourite parts of the day is spending 5-10 minutes hunching over my Steam Inhaler » – also known as a Facial Sauna 😅 – with essential oils or Vicks mixed in helps so much with sinus congestion relief to clear any mucus in your airways and get you breathing normally again. It deeply cleanses the pores in your skin too so it really wakes you up and rejuvenates you properly. They’re inexpensive, too, retailing at £24.99 and should be used all year round too.
There are plenty of benefits for using hot steam on your skin but the most useful when you’re symptomatic infected with COVID-19 is just making you feel human again and starting the day with a fresh head that’s decongested and skin that feels vibrant and glowing.
Remove nasal strip
Now, this little health hack has quite literally changed my life – no exaggeration. I’ve been a lifelong mouth-breather due to deviated septum in my nose from an early age so to encourage nasal breathing – the benefits of which are incredible – I use inexpensive nasal strips (nose plasters basically) that simply open up my nostrils and provide sweet relief with fresh oxygenated air. A month’s supply is only £5.99 from Amazon.
Spending 15-30 minutes a day stretching your body, especially first thing in the morning, has ample benefits that will help you recover well from COVID-19. Whilst fighting infections like cold and flu, the body releases the stress hormone and the research suggests by Dr. Richard Besser that stress-relieving techniques such as stretching, yoga and breathing exercises may help boost immunity. Plus, gentle stretching may help relieve aches and pains related to colds and sinus infections.
Stretches don’t have to be too complex and you can follow an easy beginner’s yoga class for ease. Best to choose a slower style of practice if you’re worried about overdoing it with those vigorous sun salutations! Or focus on restorative postures, like Child’s Pose and Legs Up the Wall, at home. Don’t forget to chant “om” whilst you’re at it too because a study from Sweden found that humming is a great way to open up clogged sinus passages, every day’s a school day!
Take a walk outside
The fresh air alone, no matter what time of year, is super important to help clear sinuses and oxygenate the lungs as best as possible but for COVID recovery it’s the Vitamin D benefits gained from being outside that is vital here. Vitamin D occurs in very few food sources which makes it difficult to meet daily requirements if you’re not getting regular exposure to sun (even through clouds). According to the British Medical Journal, Vitamin D supplementation has a protective effect against acute respiratory infections and the NHS was even running a free Vitamin D supplement service at the start of the pandemic for high-risk individuals.
The easiest way to get this, even in winter months or cloudy weather, is by walking in the daylight early. It will stimulate endorphins which will reduce feelings of stress and significantly boost your happiness and productivity levels. It’s no wonder that active people are 30% less likely to feel distressed.
Dr Huberman says that “what we do in the waking state determines when we fall asleep, how quickly we fall asleep, whether or not we stay asleep, and how we feel when we wake up the next day.” The key to setting up your body for a good day is getting outside within the first hour of your morning.
Eat a hearty breakfast
The first meal of the day is often cited as the most important. Having boosted metabolism by taking a brisk walk early, when you’re suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, it’s best to fill up on fibre with low sugar to keep inflammation low. The NHS has a list of simple and easy recipes for breakfast but here’s what I’m currently eating that’s been helping.
- Banana and peanut butter porridge
- Scrambled egg and beans bagel
- Bran flakes and fruit cereal
Take a Vitamin D3 tablet
Vitamin D is a hormone the kidneys produce that controls blood calcium concentration and impacts the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a variety of health concerns, although research is still underway into why the hormone impacts other systems of the body. Many studies point to the beneficial effect of Vitamin D on the immune system, especially regarding protection against infections.
The immune system defends the body from foreign, invading organisms, promoting protective immunity while maintaining tolerance to self. The implications of Vitamin D deficiency on the immune system have become clearer in recent years and in the context of vitamin D deficiency, there appears to be an increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, in a genetically susceptible host to autoimmunity (Source).
Researchers in Spain found that 80% of 216 COVID-19 patients in hospital had vitamin D deficiency, and men had lower Vitamin D levels than women. COVID-19 patients with lower Vitamin D levels also had raised serum levels of inflammatory markers such as ferritin and D-dimer.
A year’s supply of Vitamin D3 is just £7.99. Take one of these tablets a day that also has the important Vitamin K2 in and rest easy knowing it’s contributing to a stronger immune system.
Take a Vitamin K2 Tablet
The vast majority of COVID-19 infected individuals have mild to moderate symptoms, but a significant proportion develops respiratory failure due to pneumonia. Thrombosis is another frequent manifestation of COVID-19 that contributes to poor outcomes. Vitamin K plays a crucial role in the activation of both pro and anti-clotting factors in the liver and the activation of synthesised protein which seems to be important in local thrombosis prevention.
A new study, supported by Kappa Bioscience, confirms that Vitamin K is lower in hospitalised patients with COVID-19 and finds low Vitamin K status to be predictive of higher mortality. This is a major finding that taking a small daily supplement of Vitamin K will certainly help prevent any potential issues with COVID-19 complications.
Take a Zinc supplement
Zinc is an essential trace element that is crucial for growth, development and maintenance of immune function. Its influence reaches all organs and cell types, representing an integral component of approximately 10% of the human body.
Zinc deficiency is strikingly common, affecting up to a quarter of the population in developing countries, but also affecting distinct populations in the developed world as a result of lifestyle, age, and disease-mediated factors. Consequently, zinc status is a critical factor that can influence antiviral immunity, particularly as zinc-deficient populations are often most at risk of acquiring viral infections such as COVID-19.
I’m taking 1 x 15mg Zinc supplement per day, get a year’s supply for £14.99 from Amazon.
Take an anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is normal in response to pathogenic infection like COVID-19, but it appears that patients, especially the elderly, demonstrate pre-heightened inflammatory levels and this can make them subject to uncontrolled inflammation when infected by the coronavirus, leading to a cytokine storm. This is an extreme release of cytokines in response to infection due to a loss of regulation on the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. For example, pro-inflammatory markers associated with a cytokine storm have been detected in diabetic COVID-19 patients.
Taking an Ibuprofen tablet after your morning meal will certainly help control the inflammation and reduce the symptoms of COVID-19 that are similar to a common cold. According to the BBC, scientists are running a trial to see if ibuprofen can help hospital patients who are sick with coronavirus. The team from London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital and King’s College believe the drug, which is an anti-inflammatory as well as a painkiller, could treat breathing difficulties.
Breathe in saline nebuliser
I came across this study where the results were quite astounding “The experimental treatment decreased the risk for hospitalisation by 92%” so I had to introduce this to my COVID-19 recovery routine to help stop the spread of the infection internally. A nebuliser (like a liquid inhaler) is a portable or handheld machine that helps you breathe in medicine as a fine mist that goes directly into your airways and lungs through a mask or a mouthpiece. And instead of medicine, it was a simple saline solution that helps irrigate the virus in your sinuses and directly into the lungs as well to drastically stop the spread of the virus.
Spend 10–15 minutes inhaling the saline via your nebuliser for best results.
The nebuliser is an inexpensive piece of kit available from Amazon for £36.99.
The saline solution (30 doses) is plenty enough and available from Amazon for £19.99.
Drink 500ml of water
Another 500ml of water that’ll take you to the halfway point for the day. By all means sip throughout the morning should you prefer but I find it easier to down a 500ml bottle at various times having set reminders.
Meditation and mindfulness are practices that can help and support alleviate mental health symptoms experienced by healthcare professionals, patients, carers and the general public during times of crisis such as the current global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
The predominant symptoms presenting at this historical time in many people in society and within ourselves are anxiety, overwhelm and despair. These are totally natural to feel during a time of a global pandemic of what will be an uncertain duration. Systematic reviews of meditation-based tools such as meditation using focused attention, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction have shown reduced anxiety (Montero-Marin et al. 2019), depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Khusid & Vythilingam, 2016), stress (Juul et al. 2020), blood pressure, cortisol levels and other physiologic markers of stress (Pascoe et al. 2017).
Take the afternoon easy
After quite a busy morning, it’s best to take it easy and rest as that’s what your body will likely be telling you. Start the afternoon with a light and healthy low-carb lunch and relax in front of some light-hearted media like a comedy show or series, or alternatively pick up the phone and speak to a friend or family member if you can to boost your mood in a social interaction – isolation is long!
Eat a healthy lunch
Eating foods like white bread, white rice, regular pasta and even crisps can make you feel drowsy, says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). That’s because simple carbs, not the carbs made from whole grains, cause your blood sugar to spike quickly, followed by a drop that can leave you feeling tired after eating. That sudden drop in blood sugar is often called a sugar crash.
Sugar, also, can mess with your nighttime sleep habits. Constant spikes in blood sugar can contribute to frequent waking up at night, according to Advances in Nutrition research. Eating a diet of whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats helps keep your blood sugar on an even keel, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
With that, I would usually mix up the following lunches:
- Roast chicken and vegetable soup
- John West tuna salad lunches
- Salmon and broccoli with whole grain rice
- High protein ready meals from musclefood.com
- Huel’s ready-to-drink complete meal bottles
Don’t forget to have a glass of fruit juice and water with lunch to keep hydrated.
Take an anti-inflammatory
Once you’ve eaten lunch, take your next set of painkillers and/or anti-inflammatories to keep the inflammation at bay and to reduce the severity of your symptoms where possible.
Time to rest Zzz…
Even if you’re not a napper, your body will need to be in a restorative state to help the immune system work its magic and get you recovering from COVID-19 as quickly as possible. That’s why usually around 3pm I felt that slump happen and would go and lie down on the bed and set an alarm for 1 hour 30 minutes as, according to research from the National Sleep Foundation and sleep.org, that’s the maximum amount of time before feeling groggy or affecting sleep at nighttime. Embrace it!
Breathe in saline nebuliser
Time to use the nebuliser again to keep the virus out of your lungs and cleanse your sinuses and airways.
Drink 500ml of water
Back on the hydration hype here and you’ll be needing it after a salty inhaler session previously!
Enjoy evening entertainment
Once you’re refreshed from an afternoon nap and are topped up with any medicine required, it’s time to enjoy the evening entertainment and make it social where possible like playing games or socialising online with your family and friends to keep connected. Stay off the sugar snacks or desserts as we know from a Diabetes UK report that people who were admitted to hospital with coronavirus and high blood sugar levels were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit.
Eat a high-carb dinner
Stay away from fast food delivery apps as much as possible to ensure you’re getting nourishing meals that will contribute to fighting the virus more so than hindering it! My best tip for this is to buy a week’s supply of ready meals from Muscle Food that are full of lean protein, good carbs and healthy vegetables. They couldn’t be easier to cook too from frozen in the oven or microwave and that way you don’t have to put much effort into cooking!
Some of my favourite dinners to have are:
- The Ultimate Fish and Chips
- Spicy Sausage Gnocchi in Creamy Tomato Sauce »
- High Protein Fajita Chicken Pizza
Eating a little earlier will ensure your body isn’t actively digesting food when you try and sleep and increase the time that’s fasted between meals.
Watch a comedy series
It’s that age-old adage that “laughter is the best medicine” and it really is both mentally and physically. I can’t stress the importance of watching funny shows, series or films that a feel-good and make you laugh. It’s easy to get caught up in doom-scrolling and watching the often sensationalist always-on news programmes but try and avoid these as much as possible! Especially because whilst you’re in isolation, what’s happening in the outside world doesn’t impact you directly.
Some of my favourites to watch on Netflix have been:
- The Big Bang Theory
- Schitt’s Creek
- The IT Crowd
- Peep Show
- Russel Howard: Lubricant
- James Acaster: Repetoire
Hot steamer session
Finishing the day with another hot steamer session will soothe your sinuses and clear airways for the best chance at a good night’s sleep. Steam inhalation will naturally slow your rate of breathing down too which will help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and put you in relaxing sleep mode.
There are different attachments to use on most steamers too so use the facial sauna attachment to help clean your pores as if you’ve worn a face mask before bed that’ll leave you feeling refreshed af.
Into bed by ~10pm
When all the days seem to blend into one, it’s easy to just stay up and watch films and doom scroll but I have to reiterate how important sleep is to restorative health and giving your immune system the best chance to fight the COVID-19 virus off. Stick your phone on Sleep / Do Not Disturb mode and set the alarm for ~08:00am.
Listen to the Calm app
The Calm smartphone app has been a game-changer for me personally in the past few years and certainly during the pandemic as it’s helped take my busy overstimulated mind and primes me for a deep night’s sleep. With tons of different Sleep Stories read soothingly by familiar famous voices and easy guided breathwork sessions, you’d be hard-passed not to find an appropriate sleep aid for your needs.
There we have it. That was my mostly science-based COVID recovery routine that has ensured my symptoms didn’t worsen and that I bounced back to full health twice. Now I didn’t stick to this religiously all the time, but a bit of planning in advance will help to stick to this routine as much as possible. Having a routine can certainly be helpful in times of unpredictability, uncertainty, and stress. Implementing a structure to your day can give you a sense of control and it can also boost mood at times like these. I do hope it helps you.