Exercise and Your Immune System

Regular exercise has more benefits for your health and wellbeing than just about anything else you can do. Add one more to the list: a stronger immune system. 

Moderate exercise and COVID-19

A recent study confirmed what researchers have been observing for years: regular, moderate exercise strengthens the immune system.

This study was looking specifically at COVID-19. This is a disease that spreads mostly through droplets containing the virus. This is actually the most common form of infection among human beings, and studies have found that regular exercise reduces this type of infection by as much as 46%. 

80% of COVID-19 cases are mild. The body’s immune system responds to the infection and knocks it out. However, more serious cases and even death can result from the infection if the body’s immune system can’t respond well enough to win against the virus.

The study found a correlation between regular moderate exercise and more effective response to COVID-19. However, other studies have suggested that regular exercise just makes us healthier overall, and therefore better able to fight off infection. While many studies have made the connection between exercise and immunity, more research is needed to be sure just how it works.

However, the connection is clear enough that we should all, as things open up and we get out and about more often, make sure we get that regular exercise.

Are we getting the  exercise we need?

During the pandemic, many of us have become more sedentary. In 2018, just 23% of Americans got enough exercise, and a recent survey found that 27% of respondents are moving less during the pandemic than they did before.

This isn’t just a question of gym time. Before the pandemic, many of us walked more, climbed more stairs, and moved around more in the course of our normal activities. Now, many of us work and study from home or in some cases don’t work or study any more. We have more time on our sofas and less time moving in routine work and recreation.

A recent global study of step counts with wearables like Apple Watch and FitBit found that steps have been reduced by as much as 50% during the pandemic.

Regular exercise is more important during the pandemic, but fewer of us are reaching the 150 minutes per week of movement that the CDC recommends.

How to make it happen

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests walking briskly around the house, climbing up and down stairs, dancing, jumping rope, walking or running outdoors, cycling, house and gardening work and family games. 

All these options are easy to do at home and can be fitted into a day of remote work or virtual learning. But they need to be a regular part of our lives to strengthen our immune systems. 

Here are some ways to get moderate exercise into our lives:

  • “Exercise snacking” is a fun name for small bursts of exercise throughout the day. Using the Pomodoro system or replacing snack breaks, take five or ten minutes several times a day to get your heart rate up. Run up and down stairs, go all-in on house or garden chores, or do a short YouTube workout.
  • Maybe a “No Excuses” system will work better for you. Carve out 30 minutes in your day, five days a week, and make a date with yourself for half an hour of moderate exercise, no matter what. It might take some extra determination at first, but over time the rest of your day will adjust to allow that 30 minutes to happen.
  • Find an accountability partner, either in your household or virtually. It could be an online community, a virtual trek, or a friend who’ll mask up and join you for a daily socially distanced bike ride. Your spouse or older child might be up for a daily challenge, or your dog might make you feel accountable for a 30-minute walk. If you’re fully vaccinated, find a fully vaccinated partner for more options.

Before you know it, you’ll be in the habit.

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