Exercise and Immune System: How much exercise is enough?

There is no doubt that the most popular trend right now is COVID-19. People are exposed to a non-stop flood of information on the topic. Reports, articles, research on how you can protect yourself and what you should in order to remain physically and mentally health during self-quarantine. Is there really something that you could from the fitness point of view to boost your body’s resilience against COVID-19? Is there any correlation between your immune system and fitness level? If yes, how do we do know how much is exercise enough?

The first thing is that we need to differentiate between two groups of people: healthy and not so healthy. A proper fitness workout should adapt accordingly to meet the distinctive needs of those two groups.

Let’s take a look on people who are or were affected (mainly, with mild symptoms) by Covid-19 or any other virus (like the common flu). Surprisingly enough, they are already following an intensive training since their immune system is working out (on a constant basis) to help their body recover from the infection. So, what does exercise fits in the picture?

One thing we should get clear from the start is that there is a difference between “working out” and just physically “moving your body”. A well-structured workout routine- the one where you are breathing heavily while working hard and feeling some discomfort- awakens a stress response on the body. When we are healthy our bodies can easily adapt to that type of stress. Over time, this progressive adaptation is what makes us stronger and fitter. When you are sick, the stress elicited from a tough workout can be more than your immune system can handle. If you practice a non-strenuous movement with your body while on virus mode then you are staying on the safe side. In fact, this type of exercise may help you feel better. A non-strenuous activity could be bicycling, walking in the park or yoga. It is any type of activity that is low-impact and is, overall, performed easily with no considerable strain on your body.

Overall, you must avoid the “working hard” attitude in fitness when you are not feeling that healthy and there many reasons why:

(1) After a long, push workout you are more susceptible to any infection. That is the reason why many people get sick after a marathon.

(2) Prefer a short, push workout that can not harm your immune system. A moderate-intensity workout can be beneficial for your immune system. It also boosts immunity in healthy individuals.

(3) Based on evidence, chronic resistance training can stimulate your innate immunity while chronic, moderate exercise can strengthen your body’s non-adaptive immunity.

A word of advice to recap what we have said, thus far:

If you are and feeling healthy, you are allowed to do intense workouts up to three times a week. Consistent, moderate resistance and aerobic exercise will help you build immunity. Just for the records, people that have never exercised before and followed an intense work-out (more that 4workouts/week), got sick rather often.

If you are feeling sick, you can still exercise yet it is better to adapt a non-strenuous routine (walking, riding, bicycling, gardening). In any case, please follow the advice of your health professional, first. If you are allowed to exercise, seek advice from a professional fitness expert.

Remember that health and safety come first!

Thanos Hrysaidis, Fitness Consultant and Master NLP Coach.