Moving off the couch could help fend off deadly infections
Daily exercise during lockdown is important in maintaining a healthy immune system, researchers say
Breaking a sweat in your living room, kitchen or garden during lockdown could be your shield against a dreaded disease.
New research published in international journal Exercise Immunology Review suggests that daily exercise at a time when much of the world has gone into isolation will play an important role in helping to maintain a healthy immune system.
It has been widely agreed that regular moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial for immunity, but some believe more arduous exercise can suppress immune function, leading to an “open window” of heightened infection risk in the hours and days following exercise.
In new research, published this month, experts debated whether the immune system can change in a negative or positive way after exercise.
The study found that infections are more likely to be linked to inadequate diet, psychological stress, insufficient sleep, travel and, importantly, pathogen exposure at social gatherings such as marathons, rather than exercise itself.
Researcher Dr James Turner from the University of Bath in the UK explained: “Our work has concluded that there is very limited evidence for exercise directly increasing the risk of becoming infected with viruses.
“In the context of coronavirus and the conditions we find ourselves in today, the most important consideration is reducing your exposure from other people who may be carrying the virus.
“But people should not overlook the importance of staying fit, active and healthy during this period.
“Provided it is carried out in isolation – away from others –then regular daily exercise will help better maintain the way the immune system works, not suppress it.”
Co-researcher, Dr John Campbell added: “People should not fear that their immune system will be suppressed by exercise, placing them at increased risk of coronavirus.
“Regular, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, running or cycling, is recommended, with the aim of achieving 150 minutes per week.
“Longer, more vigorous exercise would not be harmful, but if capacity to exercise is restricted due to a health condition or disability, the message is to ‘move more’ and that ‘something is better than nothing’.”
Provided it is carried out in isolation - away from others - then regular daily exercise will help better maintain the way the immune system works.Dr James Turner
To give the body its best chance of fighting off infections, the researchers suggest that in addition to regular exercise, pay attention to how much sleep you get, and maintain a healthy diet.
Prof Pamela Naidoo, head of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, acknowledged that the country “is a very unequal society with many communities that do not have enabling environments to exercise and/or eat foods that are recommended as healthy choices”.
“While we need to address the issue of structural inequality, we need to simultaneously do the best we can to be physically active and eat the correct foods.”
SA wellness expert Vanessa Ascencao said research showed that diet, nutrition, exercise and mental strength are vital for optimal immune function and to help counter disease and infection.
“Since a large percentage of the immune system resides in the gut, it’s essential to nourish the body with whole, natural, fibrous foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice and raw oats, and small portions of quality, organic protein such as ethically farmed lean meat, poultry and fish, or seeds, nuts, beans and legumes,” she said.
Tips to keep you moving in a confined space:
- Running or actively moving on the same spot for at least 20 minutes to 30 minutes daily;
- Do weight bearing exercises if you can. Stretching is a good way to maintain a flexible and agile body;
- Yoga for strength training and meditation to help reduce anxiety is an evidence-based practice; .
- Use online trainers provided they are trusted and accredited.