Long Covid exercise programme: council offers harmful treatment

  • Post last modified:June 4, 2024
  • Reading time:8 mins read

A council in Northamptonshire has launched a recovery scheme for people living with long Covid. However, the 12-week long Covid exercise programme is centred round incremental exercise. Of course, this looks alarmingly like a harmful treatment that psychologising scientific hacks have forced on patients living with a similar post-viral chronic illness for decades.

North Northamptonshire’s long Covid exercise programme

On 30 May, North Northamptonshire council announced a new programme to help residents living with long Covid.

As the BBC reported:

People who are struggling with symptoms of long Covid can get help from a council-funded exercise scheme.

The 12-week long Covid recovery programme is open to resident from North Northamptonshire with sessions held at Lodge Park Sports Centre in Corby.

Anyone who is suffering from persistent symptoms caused by the virus can self-refer onto the programme or be referred by a medical professional.

Ostensibly, the ‘recovery’ scheme includes use of smart fitness tech for a purportedly “tailored fitness programmes”. In particular, the programme utilises German fitness tech company EGYM’s equipment and software.

According to North Northants’s webpage, the exercise sessions revolve around EGYM’s so-called ‘Immunity Boost’ programme. Notably, EGYM’s website states that in this:

Each workout contains a warmup, a muscle strengthening part and a light cardio cool down.

During the warm up which includes stretching exercises for an increased lymph flow and improved breathing capacity, you activate your immune system and get prepared for the following strength training.

The muscle strengthening part is designed in a way that your muscles release as many myokines as possible without being too strenuous. In the cardio cool down your body accelerates the regeneration and reduces the open window effect.

Crucially, it advocates for “progression controlled exercises” – or in other words, week-on-week increases in different activities. In a nutshell then, it’s promoting a physical therapy intervention known as graded exercise therapy (GET).

Effectively, GET entails incremental increases in exercise, over a period of time. It rests on the premise that a patients’ reduced capacity is due to deconditioning. However, this is hugely problematic.

GET: a junk science treatment

GET has been the favoured treatment of a prominent lobby who have psychologised a similar post-viral illness in what an MP described as the:

biggest medical scandal of the 21st century.

The Canary has consistently reported on the powerful, vested psychiatric lobby who have hijacked the science and care for people living with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Notably, a fraudulent, junk science and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) part-funded study known as the PACE trial pushed GET and other psychologising treatments. You can read more on the PACE trial and its controversial history here.

Crucially, many patients have reported that GET has made their condition worse. This is due to the disease’s hallmark feature – post exertional malaise (PEM). PEM causes a disproportionate worsening of multiple debilitating symptoms after physical, mental, social, or emotional exertion.

However, in 2021, key health body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) removed GET as a treatment recommendation for ME. Unfortunately, as the Canary’s Steve Topple reported, these guidelines didn’t go far enough. Specifically, they left the door open to so-called “personalised” and “flexible” exercise programmes – which on the whole, operate as GET-lite.

Predictably, the psych lobby has already weaponised this to devastating effect. Members of this prominent psych lobby still try to push this treatment on people living with ME. Often, its ardent clinical devotees attempt to spin a new version of GET as novel and safe approaches to ME care. Part of this backlash, as Topple also pointed out – is that it’s now rolling out GET to long Covid patients.

North Northamptonshire’s long Covid exercise programme is a prime example of this.

A money-making scheme for the council?

What’s concerning here is that long Covid has pathological overlaps with ME. On top of this, studies have already shown that over 50% of people living with long Covid meet the diagnostic criteria for ME. Ergo, the treatment is inappropriate – in fact, even potentially dangerous – for many patients with the condition.

So why exactly is North Northamptonshire Council funding a GET-based programme for people with long Covid?

Northamptonshire itself has no specialist services for people living with ME. As such, as far as the Canary could see, it doesn’t have local psych lobby proponents influencing the direction of these services. Instead, it points to a dearth of knowledge on ME as a whole in the area.

Exemplar of this, while there are no existing ME clinics, local NHS services do have form on psychologising the chronic illness:

Now, this seems to be feeding through to its approach on long Covid too – with this long Covid exercise programme.

What’s more, EGYM appears to be part of the council’s broader plans for generating income from its leisure services. North Northamptonshire is promoting the long Covid programme with a discounted referral offer of £24.50 a month to EGYM and the leisure centre’s facilities.

Notably, in a recent council performance report from February, it lists “Introduce an E-Gym offer” as one of its income generation proposals. In other words, this this new long Covid service is little more than a souped-up money-making scheme for the council. Of course, it will come at the expense of many long Covid patients.

Evidently however, the programme is little more than glorified GET, dressed up in new fitness tech. So once again, this vestige of a junk science treatment is set to devastate the lives of more people living with devastating chronic illness.

Feature image via EGYM – Youtube

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