Salt therapy and a dose of pleasure help Poles fight Covid for a long time
Wieliczka (Poland) (AFP)
Whirling enthusiastically to the sounds of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, a group of middle-aged Poles are battling lingering symptoms of Covid with gym circuits.
But this is no ordinary fitness workout.
It takes place 130 meters underground in a cavernous space next to a dark green brine lake in a former salt mine in southern Poland that dates back to the 13th century.
“When I came here, I was enchanted by this place,” participant Jadwiga Nowak told AFP, as other participants in tracksuits throw fitness balls in the air, ride their bikes. exercise and jogging on the spot.
“I felt this atmosphere, this calm, this silence and this air is totally different from that on the surface. There is magic here, ”said the 60-year-old woman, who was on a ventilator for 16 days with Covid after being hospitalized in October.
One of the oldest salt mines in the world, Wieliczka is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Over the centuries, miners have made it a unique work of art, digging a labyrinth of tunnels leading to chambers and shrines adorned with salt chandeliers.
It is a tourist attraction, but also a spa which has offered salt therapy for nearly 200 years – mainly by inhalation but also brine baths – to patients with lung problems.
It now also welcomes former Covid patients referred by the public health system for stays of three weeks, as well as paying private customers.
– Blow soap bubbles –
Visitors descend the old mine shaft in an elevator in groups of 10 or 15 and walk through salt encrusted tunnels, following tracks once used by mine trains.
Once inside the 15-meter-high Wessel Lake chamber covered with a wooden deck, patients are subjected to a series of breathing and stretching exercises and monitored by a doctor.
“Typically, patients who had Covid have much worse symptoms than those with normal asthma. But former Covid patients can regain their normal health. On average, there is a 60 to 80 percent improvement of their physical tests “after their Wieliczka stay, said physiotherapist Agata Kita.
Scientists estimate that 10 to 15 percent of former Covid patients contract a long-term Covid, with symptoms of fatigue, impaired concentration, body pain and breathing problems.
Poland has taken the lead in rehabilitation programs and long-term Covid research, launching its first facility for post-Covid patients in September.
One of the hospitals participating in the effort is in Glucholazy, on the border with the Czech Republic, where patients are also offered mental health care and virtual reality games to test their reaction skills.
Doctors told AFP during a visit this week that they had found more than 50 distinct persistent physical and psychological symptoms in people with Covid.
“Besides the pulmonary symptoms, there are also muscle and joint pain, balance and coordination problems, loss of memory and concentration, and symptoms related to stress and depression,” said Jan Szczegielniak , who works in rehabilitation in Glucholazy.
Among the patients is Piotr Zyjewski, a taekwondo trainer who had to self-isolate at home for 37 days after contracting Covid in October.
“I used to start each day with a run of at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) and take taekwondo lessons in the evenings. It lasted all week, I had a very high endurance level.
“Now it’s hard for me to accept that I have trouble walking for 20 minutes,” he said.
– ‘I feel better’ –
Back in Wieliczka, the chamber resonates with the sound of loud breathing exercises.
With its small alcoves carved into the rock, the place looks like a surrealist theater.
In one corner, patients can be seen blowing soap bubbles or windmills to test their breathing.
There is a lot of joviality and even laughter during an exercise that appears to be a form of “tag” – but many participants have only recently been seriously ill.
Salt therapy, or halotherapy, is popular in Central and Eastern Europe, although the international scientific community is divided on its true benefits and some scientists believe it only has a placebo effect.
But Magdalena Ramatowska, a doctor in Wieliczka, said she has seen beneficial effects.
“Above all, the air is clean here. Without any allergens. This environment is excellent for the respiratory tract.
“There is high humidity, very little current and a lot of salt air which works against inflammation and bacteria,” she said.
Lucyna Szulc, who went to the hospital in March with Covid and spent 20 days on a ventilator, is also convinced the salt mine is doing her good.
“When I was released from the hospital my breathing was very weak,” said the 59-year-old.
“Now I feel better. I also feel that my physical condition is improving. It is easier to exercise faster and keep pace with people who have had Covid long before me,” he said. she declared.
© 2021 AFP