London: Being in isolation without access to gyms and sports clubs should not mean people stop exercising, say researchers, adding that daily exercise plays an important role in helping to maintain a healthy immune system.
A new analysis, published in the journal Exercise Immunology Review, highlights the power of regular, daily exercise on our immune system and the importance of people continuing to work-out even in lockdown.
“People should not fear that their immune system will be suppressed by exercise placing them at increased risk of Coronavirus,” said study co-author John Campbell from the University of Bath in the UK.
“Provided exercise is carried out according to the latest government guidance on social distancing, regular exercise will have a tremendously positive effect on our health and wellbeing, both today and for the future,” Campbell added.
Over the last four decades, many studies have investigated how exercise affects the immune system.
It is widely agreed that regular moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial for immunity, but a view held by some is that more arduous exercise can suppress immune function, leading to an ‘open-window’ of heightened infection risk in the hours and days following exercise.
In a benchmark study in 2018, this ‘open window’ hypothesis was challenged by Dr Campbell and Dr James Turner.
They reported in a review article that the theory was not well supported by scientific evidence, summarising that there is limited reliable evidence that exercise suppresses immunity, concluding instead that exercise is beneficial for immune function.
They said that, in the short term, exercise can help the immune system find and deal with pathogens, and in the long term, regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with ageing, therefore reducing the risk of infections.
In a new article, they debated whether the immune system can change in a negative or positive way after exercise, and whether or not athletes get more infections than the general population
“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,” said study author Dr Turner.
“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 — than regular, daily exercise will help better maintain the way the immune system works — not suppress it,” Turner added.
At this current time, in particular, the researchers underline the importance of maintaining good personal hygiene when exercising, including thoroughly washing hands following exercise.
To give the body its best chance at fighting off infections, in addition to doing regular exercise, people need to pay attention to the amount of sleep they get and maintain a healthy diet, that is energy balanced to account for the energy that is used during exercise, the researchers said.