To stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, a majority of people around the world have been told to stay at home. Even without your gym or health club, you can still take advantage of a huge immune system booster. Regular exercise helps boost your immunity and keep you healthy.
Being isolated doesn’t mean your exercise regimen should stop. In fact, research from the University of Bath tells us the opposite is true. Regular, daily exercise plays an important role in keeping you sane, strong and sporting a strong, healthy immune system.
We’ve learned over the last 40 or so years that regular, moderately intense exercise is great for the immune system. However, the jury is still out on higher intensity or extreme exercise. Some in the research community have claimed that high intensity exercise actually creates and “open window,” during which there is an increased risk of infection. This window can last hours or even days, say the proponents of the idea.
The authors of the current University of Bath research, Dr. James Turner and Dr. John Campbell, both of Bath’s Department of Health, challenged that idea in a key study in 2018. Their claim was that the “open window” theory wasn’t well supported by science and lacked evidence. They summed it up by saying that there’s limited verifiable evidence backing up the idea that exercise suppresses immune function. They concluded that exercise – all types – is beneficial to the human immune system.
In the near term, say the doctors, exercise helps the body’s defenses find and attack pathogens. Over the long term, exercise delays and slows the negative changes in the immune system associated with aging. This helps reduce the risk of infection, according to the researchers.
In a new article published in the international journal Exercise Immunology Review, they again consider the impact of exercise on our immune system function.
They sought to determine whether exercise induces changes, positive or negative, in the immune system during the post-exercise period. They also assessed whether athletes get infections at a higher rate than the general population.
They concluded that other factors were more involved in acquiring infections. These include psychological stress, poor or insufficient sleep, poor diet, travel and exposure to pathogens in crowded spaces or events, including sporting events and things like marathons. The act of exercising, they concluded, didn’t increase the risk of getting an infection.
Author Dr James Turner from the Department for Health at the University of Bath explains: “Our work has concluded that there is very limited evidence for exercise directly increasing the risk of becoming infected with viruses. In the context of coronavirus and the conditions we find ourselves in today, the most important consideration is reducing your exposure from other people who may be carrying the virus. (Emphasis added) But people should not overlook the importance of staying fit, active and healthy during this period. Provided it is carried out in isolation — away from others — then regular, daily exercise will help better maintain the way the immune system works — not suppress it.”
Co-author, Dr John Campbell added: “People should not fear that their immune system will be suppressed by exercise placing them at increased risk of Coronavirus. (Emphasis added) Provided exercise is carried out according to latest government guidance on social distancing, regular exercise will have a tremendously positive effect on our health and well-being, both today and for the future.”
What kind of exercise will maximize your immune system boost? That depends on you, your current fitness levels, your lifestyle and your exercise preference. All exercise is positive for the immune system, provided it doesn’t damage the body or leave lasting injuries.
The authors say that you should walk, run, cycle or do other kinds of aerobic exercise at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week. Want to go harder? Fine, just be aware of your capabilities – and your limitations.
If you have a health condition or disability, the researchers suggest a “move more” philosophy is the way to approach exercise. Resistance training provides unique benefits as well, making both muscles and the immune system stronger.
The researchers suggest that maintaining good hygiene around your exercise regimen is a good idea in the age of COVID-19 coronavirus. Wash your hands frequently and after exercise. You may also want to spray down exercise clothes with an aerosol sanitizer before throwing them in the hamper or laundry basket with other clothes. This may reduce the spread of the virus across your clothes and has the bonus of tamping down the “sweat-stink.”
The researchers also offered some sound, if not surprising advice on how to reduce your risk of infection. These include cleaning up your diet, getting more sleep and managing stress. Not new advice, but solid, especially in this challenging time.
Get your exercise in! Eat well, sleep, manage stress and keep your body and your house clean and sanitized! Just as important…keep the faith and keep after it!
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Journal Reference – Richard J Simpson, John P Campbell, Maree Gleeson, Karsten Krüger, David C Nieman, David B Pyne, James E Turner, Neil P Walsh. Can Exercise Affect Immune Function to Increase Susceptibility to Infection? Exerc Immunol Rev, 2020