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Bill Brown
Oct 16, 2020

You asked: Can exercise protect against COVID-19?

Can exercising help protect you against COVID-19? And what’s the best way to stay fit during the coronavirus pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we find out whether exercise can help to protect you against coronavirus or becoming seriously ill.

You can eat to support your immunity and stay healthy during the coronavirus epidemic. But it might surprise you to learn that there is another way to boost your immunity to infections like COVID-19: exercise.

We asked our expert Dr Claire Steves – a senior clinical lecturer at King’s College London and a geriatrician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust – whether exercise can help boost immunity, how much exercise we need right now, and what’s the best way to stay fit during a pandemic.

How physical activity impacts the immune system

“Exercise has a major effect on the immune system – it’s a fact we have known for decades,” Claire explains.

Multiple studies have now linked moderate exercise with decreased rates of influenza, pneumonia, and other infections, as well as chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Staying active supports your immune system in a variety of ways, including reducing inflammation, increasing the presence of innate immune cells, and positively effecting your gut microbiome, all of which support your body’s defense mechanisms. 

Regular exercise has also been shown to improve your ability to regulate your immune system, which may be essential for avoiding the severe symptoms of COVID-19 caused by immune system over-reactions.

Still, it’s important to remember that although older people and those with existing health conditions are more likely to become seriously ill or die with COVID-19, being physically fit is not a fail-safe protection against the disease. 

number of seemingly fit and healthy younger people have also succumbed to coronavirus infection, and we’re hoping that our research with the Twins UK study and other large groups like the Harvard-led Nurses’ Health Study will help to explain why.

While the best way to protect yourself against coronavirus infection is to follow government guidelines – including regularly washing your hands and avoiding physical contact with others –  judicious exercise may well also help to keep you healthy during this time.

You don’t need to run a marathon in your back yard

Claire highlights that physical activity can positively impact your immune system in a relatively short space of time, so if you don’t already have a keep-fit regimen, it’s worth starting one now.

The latest research suggests that a single workout can have beneficial effects on your immunity, and regular sessions add up quickly to boost your immune system.

But exercise doesn’t need to be long, intense, or unpleasant to be effective. Studies have shown that bouts of moderate activities such as walking, jogging, or cycling lasting less than an hour can provide a range of immune benefits.

In contrast, substantial sudden increases in physical activity can have adverse effects on your body’s defenses and increase the risk of picking up an injury. So maybe don’t leap straight into a back yard marathon or indoor Everest hike unless you’re already in good condition.

Importantly, physical activity is great for your mental as well as your physical health.

Moving your body in a way that you enjoy can provide a much-needed positive boost to help you get through this difficult time. 

How can I stay active during the lockdown?

Click here to see how the Arena District Athletic Club can help you stay Fit and Healthy!


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