It is frustrating to stay in isolation without access to gyms and sports clubs, but it doesn’t mean that you should give up exercising.
According to experts, doing daily exercise, even in lockdown, can help your body’s natural defence system to fight infections.
Past studies show that habitual moderate to vigorous intensity workouts can boost the immune system.
A review suggests that moderate to vigorous intensity exercise on a regular basis helps reduce the chance of respiratory infection, several diseases and some types of cancer.
Seemingly with each session of exercise, immune cells are exchanged between the tissues and the blood, contributing to immune surveillance and so reducing risk of illness.
Immune surveillance is a process through which foreign substances such as viruses, bacteria, or tumour cells are watched and destroyed.
Everyday physical activity in the short-term strengthens the immune system to fight pathogens, including coronavirus.
Also, in the long-run it lowers infection risk by slowing down the immune system decline that naturally happens with aging.
Dr Turner and Dr Campbell in this review consider whether exercise could have a negative impact on immune function or if athletes are more susceptible to infections than the rest of us.
They find that if athletes get more infections it is because of the amount of travelling and exposure to new pathogens in different countries or at social events.
Other factors that make athletes more prone to infection are psychological stress, poor sleep and poor diet.
Dr James Turner, study co-author, explained:
“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.
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.”
Dr John Campbell, study co-author, said:
“People should not fear that their immune system will be suppressed by exercise placing them at increased risk of Coronavirus.
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 wellbeing, both today and for the future.”
Daily aerobic exercise like cycling, walking, or running or even more vigorous exercise are all useful.
For those with a health issue that may restrict the amount of exercise that can be done then ‘moving more’ is better than doing nothing.
Strength training at home such as Pilates, weight lifting, shoulder presses or bench presses can help movement, flexibility, and maintenance of muscles.
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in the journal Exercise Immunology Review (Simpson et al., 2020).