Does exercise boost immunity? What to know about working out during coronavirus
With everything going on right now, the last thing you may be thinking about is exercise. Many of us are finding ourselves exhausted from the stress and anxiety that comes with being in quarantine, and with gyms closed, our normal exercise routines may no longer be an option. You could also find yourself in the opposite mindset: Looking for more ways to get your body moving and using movement as a release for all that stress.
Either way, exercise is important, and it may even help to boost your immunity. While we all work together to help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), keeping your mental and physical health up is paramount. Here’s what we know about how exercise helps improve immunity.
Can exercise boost your immune system?
While there isn’t enough evidence right now to definitively support whether or not exercise actively boosts immunity (aka increases the production of specific, disease-fighting immune cells), what we do know is that regular exercise is a key pillar to living a healthy life. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and ultimately protects against a variety of diseases. In the same way that maintaining a healthy diet contributes to overall good health (and, in turn, a healthy immune system), so does exercise.
Studies have shown that regular, moderate-intensity exercise can be beneficial to helping our body’s ability to create an immunity response and fight certain infections and diseases—with one study even proving that moderate exercise helped decrease the severity and mortality rate of one particularly deadly strain of the flu. There is also evidence that regular physical activity and/or frequent structured exercise reduces the likelihood of chronic diseases in older age.
When we speak about “boosting immunity” in a general sense, we’re not able to specify what cells are being generated and what potential infections they might fight, but we do know that our bodies are constantly creating immune cells to help keep our bodies healthy.
When it comes to exercise and immunity, consistency is key. According to Harvard Medical School, “[Regular exercise] may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.”
How does exercise improve the immune system?
According to Medline Plus, “Exercise changes antibodies and white blood cells, which are the cells in the immune system that fight disease. When you exercise, these antibodies and white blood cells circulate in your body more rapidly, so they can potentially detect and fight illnesses earlier than they might have if you didn’t exercise.”
Additionally, exercise has been proven to slow down the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which weakens the immune system. Getting out to exercise and burn off some steam can improve both mental and physical health in tandem—something that is essential in these uncertain times.
Safe ways to exercise during coronavirus:
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and two sessions per week of muscle strength training. If possible, the goal is to try to fit in two, five, or 10 minutes of movement, however and wherever you can.
“Remember, exercise, in itself, is a stressor, although a good one when in moderation,” says Dr. Stacy Mobley, N.M.D., M.P.H., a licensed naturopathic doctor and certified ayurvedic wellness counselor. She explains that extreme workouts or workouts that last over two hours, for the average person, are overkill. “It will put more stress on the body, including the immune system, over time.”
Instead, Dr. Mobley suggests getting your body moving on a regular, routine basis by adding easy-going exercise to your daily or weekly schedule. Even during quarantine, you can work out outside, as this is considered an essential activity.
1Take a walk.
“The best (and easiest) exercise right now is just getting out for a walk for 20 to 30 minutes per week,” says Dr. Mobley. It’s simple and gets your heart beating. Just remember to practice safe social distancing, stay hydrated and breathe deeply—things that Dr. Mobley says will help cleanse the bottom portion of your lungs.
2Go for a bike ride.
A leisurely bike ride that isn’t too strenuous is an easy way to feel accomplished while still doing a good amount of exercise. If you’re in a place where you can ride a bike outside, do that. If you have an at-home standing bike, that works well, too.
3Try an at-home workout.
“Do not discount in-home workouts!” advises Dr. Mobley. Download a workout app, or check out our roundup of some at-home workout ideas. There are live, online classes available to keep you motivated, or videos you can watch and complete on your own time. Even if you choose to turn on some music and do your own thing, getting your heartbeat up and challenging your body to stay in motion is all that matters.
4Whatever you do, don’t sit all day.
While working from home and being in quarantine, it’s all too easy to sit all day. According to ExcerciseIsMedicine.org, that’s the biggest thing not to do right now. If you’re watching TV or working from the couch, take breaks to get up and walk around the room. Staying active helps our overall health, which helps us to maintain better immunity.