In light of the global pandemic of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) that has now infiltrated most countries and millions of households worldwide, it is important to keep yourself safe and healthy by strengthening your immune system to fight against impending infections, even when you are isolated at home.
Besides social distancing and the standard handwashing directives, exercise is one of the best ways to boost your immune system during this period.
According to a recent study, exercising at least 5 days a week can reduce the risk of contracting a respiratory infection by nearly 50% compared to being sedentary. Let’s take a closer look at how exercising can help to boost your immune system and how much exercise is really needed to reap this benefit.
Exercise and Anti-Inflammatory Effects
There is a myriad of research about how exercise improves the metabolic and immune systems. As you exercise regularly, your body produces more antibodies and T-cells – a type of white blood cell that is the core of adaptive immunity and tailors to the body’s immune response to specific pathogens. Depending on one’s physical levels, a regular exercise regime can lessen the severity of symptoms by 32% – 41%.
With the increase of these protective cells circulating in your body, this will help to boost your immune system and thereby a better ability to detect, attack and eliminate bacteria and viruses at a faster rate.
In addition, exercising means food will be burned at a faster rate instead of accumulating in the digestive tract and causing inflammatory effects, leading to a healthier gut and thus, a healthier body.
It has also been theorised that the increase in body temperature when you exercise may inhibit the growth of bacteria, hence reducing inflammation in the body. This rise in temperature could possibly help the body fight infections better, ridding the lungs of airborne pathogens that may cause upper respiratory tract infections.
Exercise and Stress Hormones
The term “sweat it out” is real when it comes to relieving stress. As we know, our body is a well-oiled machine that is interconnected in all aspects, from the mind to working organs. Being active decreases stress hormones, which is vital in reducing the chances of getting sick and protecting against illnesses.
These stress hormones – including adrenaline and cortisol – is a great immune booster, giving your system the added strength to counter any pathogens that may accumulate or attack. Not only that, but exercise also has the ability to slow the ageing process and potentially increase one’s lifespan by about 10 years.
Being in isolation in this given time without access to gyms or parks doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. In fact, it is even more important to exercise now than ever before. The best part is you don’t need high-intensity workouts to maintain a healthy immune system.
Light to moderate exercises several times a week is sufficient, and that includes taking a walk, gardening, or even running errands at home.
There has been an outburst of online workouts out there to keep you moving and active so it’s not a difficult feat to find something to boost your immune system.
Will Too Much Exercise Cause Adverse Effects?
Even with all these benefits, more is not always better when it comes to exercise as high training workloads have been linked to inflammation, oxidative stress, and muscle damage. All of which are counterproductive in boosting your immune system.
Overtraining has been shown to impair immune systems, as the body’s resources are utilised in repairing the oxidative stress rather than fighting illnesses linked to upper respiratory tract infections.
According to research, there’s a window in which immunity is compromised, lasting from 3 to 72 hours after hard exercise that lasts longer than 90 minutes. During this window, viruses and bacteria can overcome your body’s natural defence mechanism.
Exercise tends to activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine to skyrocket in a fight or flight stance. This will subsequently increase the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, activating a cellular response that suppresses cytokines and the tumour necrosis factor (TNF). While TNF can boost your immune system, it is also pro-inflammatory, and too much of it will do more harm than good.
Dr David Nieman proposed the J-curve theory to explain the relationship between exercise and infections. As seen on the chart below, moderate exercise seems to do the least damage, whereas tough workouts are likely to cause adverse effects. So if you typically train hard within limits, your upper respiratory tract infection risk is at a low point.
However, what if you have an existing infection? Would moderate exercise still tout its benefits then?
Some have claimed to use the ‘above the neck’ rule, meaning if you have mild symptoms in the mouth, nose and throat, you can still exercise at a lower intensity.
Though during this time of the pandemic, it is highly recommended to lay off exercising till you are fully recovered and maintain good personal hygiene before, during and after working out, including washing hands thoroughly and using your own towels.
Get Active From Home!
It may be a challenge to exercise when confined within the four walls of your home, but it’s not impossible!
Contact us today to know more about how you can stay healthy from the comforts of your own home!
1. Roy Stevenson