Exercise helps you reduce stress, look better, and feel stronger. It gives you an opportunity to explore new hobbies and meet new people. It can help foster a sense of community, motivate you to keep a healthy diet, and help make sure that you age gracefully. We know about the benefits of exercise, but have you ever wondered what exercise does to your immune system? The answer might be more complicated than you think.
At the time of this article’s publication the world is fully in the grips of a pandemic of a novel Coronavirus named COVID-19. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the spread of this disease as well as the impact the disease will have. Worldwide measures have limited travel, and many businesses like gyms, restaurants and schools have closed their doors to help stall the spread of COVID-19.
While gyms have closed to prevent people from unwittingly spreading the disease, this does not mean that workouts are a bad idea. At-home workouts are great alternatives to help you keep fit while you stay home. You can still reap the benefits of regular exercise. Are there, however, ways that workouts can help you keep healthy in the face of uncertainty?
Does exercise strengthen your immune system?
Does exercise work to strengthen your immune system? The short answer is: yes. Yes, exercise can strengthen your immune system, but that’s not the whole story. Moderate exercise increases your overall fitness. Raising your heart rate a few times a week is beneficial to all of your body’s systems. It helps your cardiovascular and respiratory systems function at their best. It helps your bones and muscles stay strong as you age.
We know that people who regularly exercise get fewer colds per year. It’s unclear why. Exercise may lead to an increase in white blood cells, the cells that help your body fight infection. Exercise may also increase your body temperature to the point that it kills viruses within your body, similar to the mechanisms of a fever.
Whatever the mechanism, we understand that exercise and fitness are important parts of keeping healthy, and that is the case whether you’re worried about infectious diseases or chronic health conditions.
Are there downsides to exercising?
Unfortunately: yes. While regular exercise is a great thing, we know that in all aspects of life there can be too much of a good thing. Exercise, by definition, stresses your body. This is usually a good thing. Your body is designed to handle small amounts of stress and that stress encourages your body to repair itself and strengthen itself in the process. Stress is good. A body without any stress would have no muscle tone, weak bones, and a poor respiratory and cardiovascular system. We know that some stress is good, but obviously too much stress is bad.
Like how psychological stress leaves you vulnerable, physical stress can also leave you vulnerable. Your body only has a limited amount of energy to expend. This means that if your body is repairing your muscles and bones from the minor damage that exercise naturally does, less energy can go toward your immunity.
This means that it is extremely important to find a balance where you’re exercising without overtraining. There are lots of ways to see if you’re overtraining, but one of the best ways is to just monitor your body. By monitoring your heart rate and exercise frequency you can make more informed decisions regarding your workout routine.
How can I stay safe while exercising?
During cold and flu season it’s important to take extra precautions to keep yourself safe. Wiping exercise equipment before and after use with antibacterial wipes, maintaining distance from other people, and staying home when you exhibit symptoms like coughing and sneezing are important steps for every gym-goer to take to keep themselves and their community safe. However, in times of mass outbreaks like today further steps need to be taken.
If you are at a low risk of contracting COVID-19 it’s still important to stay home. Avoid the gym, even if your gym is currently open. Work out from home, or exercise outside in nature. Try some at-home workouts being posted by FITIV for some guidance on how to still get a great workout with minimal equipment.