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The PM has said everyone in the UK should avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others to curb coronavirus – as the country’s death toll hit 55.

Boris Johnson said people should work from home where possible as part of a range of stringent new measures.

Pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions should consider the advice “particularly important”, he said.

People in at-risk groups will be asked within days to stay home for 12 weeks.

More than 1,500 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK – but the actual number of cases is estimated to be between 35,000 and 50,000.

So how should you stay healthy and exercise during this pandemic?

Your risk of catching a cold or the flu or developing an infection goes down if you exercise the right way. But if you exercise for too long a period of time, your risk goes right back up. In fact, your risk shoots up higher than if you did nothing at all.

In one study, mice were infected with the flu virus and then divided into three groups. The first group did no exercise. The second got a moderate amount of exercise each day. The third ran all out for two and a half hours a day.

After a few days, 50% of the couch potatoes had died of the flu. Only 12% of the moderate exercisers died. An astounding 70% of the mice that ran for hours died of the flu!

The problem is that intense, prolonged workouts suppress the body’s immune response for a period of time right after you finish exercising. And the longer and more intense your routine, the longer your immune system is down. And that means you’ll get sick more often.

The reason for this is simple: your body interprets long periods of exercise as stress.

This raises the levels of norepinephrine and cortisol. These stress hormones tend to suppress the immune system. They cause the numbers of immune cells (including white blood cells) to drop during and after the workout.

So how does exercise increase your immunity?

We do not know exactly if or how exercise increases your immunity to certain illnesses. There are several theories. However, none of these theories have been proven. Some of these theories are:

  • Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
  • Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
  • The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.

Listen To Your Body

You can choose any exercise you like. It could be as simple as going up and down the stairs, jumping rope, biking, gym or swimming. The key is to listen to your body. You should be panting at the end of each exertion period. You should not be taxed and exhausted through the whole workout.

Studies have shown that people who follow a moderately energetic lifestyle, benefit most from starting (and sticking to) an exercise program.

Exercise is good for you, but, you should not overdo it. People who already exercise should not exercise more just to increase their immunity. Heavy, long-term exercise could actually cause harm. If you have been exercising before this pandemic, and you have no symptoms of coronavirus, you should carry on. 

From everyone at SPC, please monitor your health and keep training. Our personal training clients are doing just that!

References:

World Health Organization. “Physical Activity and Adults.” 2016.

Murphy EA, Davis JM, Carmichael MD, et al. “Exercise stress increases susceptibility to influenza infection.” Brain Behav Immun. 2008;22(8):1152-5.

Moreira A, Arsati F, Cury PR, et al. “Salivary immunoglobulin a response to a match in top-level Brazilian soccer players.” J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(7):1968-73.

Abalos KC, Petri WA. Infectious disease and sports. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee & Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 20.

Asplund CA, Best TM. Exercise physiology. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee & Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 7.

Harrast MA, Laker SR, Maslowski E, De Luigi AJ. Sports medicine and adaptive sports. In: Cifu DX, ed. Braddom’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 39.

Lanfranco F, Ghigo E, Strasburger CJ. Hormones and athletic performance. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 26.