We are all familiar with ‘Covid-19’ by now. This pandemic has changed the way we live. It has influenced how we act, how we think and how we go about our daily lives. So how do we adapt to live our best life during this pandemic? We can start by improving our immune systems through regular exercise.
So, what is COVID-19 really?
On 7 January 2020, ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2’ (SARS-CoV-2) was confirmed as the causative agent of ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’ or COVID-19.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which cause respiratory infections, ranging from the common cold, to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recent Coronavirus disease is COVID-19.
Common signs of infection include a fever, sore throat and respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Why do we need to know this?
There are many colds, flues, and viruses out there. As we go into the winter season, it is very important to keep our immune systems up and running to stay as strong and healthy as we possibly can.
Improving your immune system through exercise
Regular exercise has many confirmed health benefits, from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease to improving one’s mood. But more importantly, exercise equates to a stronger immune system.
Physical exercise encourages our immune cells to perform more effectively, boosting our immune systems and helping to fight off unwanted infections. It can increase blood flow, help clear away bacteria from our airways, cause a brief elevation in body temperature that may be protective, strengthen antibodies to help fight infection, and reduce stress hormones.
There are many explanations as to how exercise supports the immune system, and it does this in a few different ways.
Regular exercise reduces inflammation, allowing the immune system to perform better. While acute inflammation in response to an injury is part of a healthy immune system, chronic inflammation can slow it down.
Studies have shown that people who follow an energetic lifestyle of regular moderate intensity exercise, benefit most from starting (and sticking to) an exercise program. Exercise will give you more energy and help you live a healthier life.
Other benefits of exercise
As we have learnt, COVID-19 has a particularly devastating effect on those suffering from underlying conditions. Improving our immune systems through regular physical exercise could have a great number of benefits that could significantly lower ones risk.
Exercise helps to control our weight. Along with diet, exercise plays an important role in controlling one’s weight and preventing obesity, as well as associated diseases like Type 2 Diabetes.
Exercise helps to manage glucose and insulin levels in the body. It can lower our blood sugar levels and help our insulin work more efficiently. This can lower our risk for developing metabolic syndrome or Type 2 Diabetes. If you already have one of these conditions, exercise can help you in managing it.
Exercise reduces our risk of heart diseases. It can strengthen our heart and improve circulation. Increased blood circulation raises the oxygen levels throughout our bodies. This helps to lower our risk of developing heart disease and any other associated conditions, such as high Cholesterol, Coronary Artery Disease, or heart attacks. Regular exercise can also lower our blood pressure and triglyceride levels too.
Exercise helps keep our thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as we age. Physical activity stimulates our body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of our brains. This also slows down brain deterioration and other tissue changes that are brought about with aging.
Exercise can also lower our risk of falling. For older adults, research shows that performing balance and muscle-strengthening activities in addition to moderate-intensity aerobic activity can help reduce risk of falling.
Exercise strengthens our bones and muscles. Doing muscle-strengthening activities can help us increase and maintain our muscle mass and strength.
Regular exercise also improves our mental and emotional well-being. While exercising, our bodies release chemicals that help improve our mood and make us feel more relaxed. This can assist us in dealing with stress and reduce our risk of depression.
Exercise can also improve our sleeping patterns. It helps us to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep for longer.
The secret is in the intensity
It’s important to remember that when we exercise, the effects of physical activity may vary, depending on the frequency, quality and type of activity we do.
Exercising at a moderate intensity has shown to stimulate the immune system by enhancing blood circulation, which in turn promotes the circulation of various immune system substances throughout the body. These positive effects can be felt for several days after exercising. The end result: it’s relatively rare to find a physically active person battling with an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), such as a sore throat, a cold or a sinus infection. This is due to the immune-enhancing effect of exercise.
Ultimately, the secret lies in BALANCE. The golden rule to avoid negatively affecting the immune system, is to remember – everything in moderation. By limiting ourselves to 30-60 minutes of activity a day, we prevent increasing the stress that could harm our body’s defense system.
Of course there’s no one solution! The strength of our immune system also depends on other factors, such as healthy eating. A combination of both is a simple yet effective way to increase our health. Having good health to begin with is paramount in the Covid-19 landscape we find ourselves living in today, especially with the winter season upon us as well.
There is no better way than to start today. So, let’s get moving, be active, be healthy and stay safe!
Burch, K. (2020, April 18). Insider. Exercise can help your immune system fight off infections.
Department of Helath South Africa. (2020). Covid-19 Online Resourse and News.
Dino Masson and Mélissa Globensky. (2020). Brunet. How physical activity aids our immune system.
Medline Plus. (2020, May 7). Exercise and immunity.