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Can exercise prevent you getting COVID? – how regular activity can boost your immune system

It has long been known that exercise can support the immune system, but a recent release from various professional bodies* has shed some light on how this could help reduce the chance of getting COVID-19, and if you do, the severity.

One of the downsides of lockdown is, as a trend we are tending to move less and sit more – which has a negative impact on our immune system. Doing regular moderate exercise (e.g. brisk walking, cycling, golf) however, has been shown to increase resistance to pathogens, such as those responsible for upper respiratory tract infections, as well decrease systemic inflammation.

But how does it do this, how much activity do you need and where do you start?

Just from moving your amazing body more, you can:

1. Move towards/maintain a healthy weight

Obesity has been identified as a major risk factor for mortality associated with COVID-19. If you are carrying excess weight, exercising in a way that helps to burn off more energy than you consume (that is safe and gradual) may
protect against the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. 

2. Stimulate you immune cells to survey the body for pathogens

After each exercise session, ant-viral immune cells are prepared and sent out.  This, over several sessions, is known to protect the body from common viruses that infect the respiratory tract, such flu, and prevent reactivation of some viruses that lay dormant in our bodies.

3. Boost your immune system from muscle contraction

During movement, your muscles release proteins that help reduce inflammation, boost your immune response and its ability to reach vulnerable places like yours lungs.

4. Improve your blood vessel & lymphatic system health

Regular exercise causes improvements in blood flow, which may help recirculate immune cells if you get infected. Furthermore, even just mild activity increases the flow of immune cells through the lymphatic system. 

5. Improve your response to vaccination

Evidence shows that regular exercise can enhance the concentration of antibodies after vaccination against influenza. Potentially therefore, this may enhance your response to COVID-19 vaccinations. 

How much and what type of exercise do you need?

You can achieve these incredible benefits with moderate-vigorous forms of exercise (e.g. brisk walking, cycling, exercise classes, jogging/running, swimming). Look to build up to at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, broken down into several sessions e.g. 30 mins, 5 days a week (rather than one go!). 

Just doing any regular movement, such as general walking, gentle yoga and light chores will still provide many immune system benefits over an above being sedentary – so get up, stand up!

Be careful about over doing it – arduous exercise (determined as doing significantly over the 150 minutes per week or regular sessions over 2 hours) has been shown in some studies to have a negative impact on immune system factors, which may lead to an increased risk of infection. Anyone doing this level of exercise needs to be in more diligent with regulating other risk factors e.g. diet, sleep, stress and risk of exposure to pathogens.

Where do you start?

Ok, so your lockdown or new year goals have gone a bit awry, no worries. There are no rules about when to start getting more active. You just need to start. Here are a few suggestions:

Want to get active or increase your activity levels but don’t know where to start? Let me help set you up in the right direction – from goal setting, to fully assisted tailored programmes, I can support you to get to where you want to be. Contact me to find out more or visit 1:1 sessions and programmes page.

*Physical Activity Factsheets: Physical Activity, Exercise an Immune Function. Dr Alex Wadley, Lecturer in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Science, Birmingham, UK. August 2020. Approved by the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and British Association of Sport & Exercise Medicine.

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