Coronavirus? Keep Exercising Anyway

Contrary to longstanding myth, intense exercise does not harm immunity

Posted Mar 16, 2020

Okay, folks. It’s exercise-and-coronavirus time

To be honest, I was going to write about something totally different today.

But since we’re all cooped up for the foreseeable future and since our bodies (and minds) still need exercise, herewith some thoughts on how to get at least the minimum (30 minutes a day, five days a week) to keep from falling apart during this difficult time.

First, as you know if you’ve read my new book, Exercise Is Medicine, exercise has huge benefits for the immune system. Obviously, we need our immune systems more than ever these days.

You may have  heard over the years that exercise causes immune suppression. Well, banish that thought. Old studies of marathon runners seemed to suggest that intense exercise created an “open window” during which the immune system temporarily crashed and pathogens swooped in.

That’s a myth. True, the runners often did self-report sore throats. But that is wrong. When subjected to real, medical diagnoses, the intense exercisers who reported sore throats after exercise did not have infections at all, just irritated throats. No need to worry on that score.

The truth, which has been emerging steadily in recent years, even a single workout, far from making us more vulnerable to infection, can actually boost our immune systems. Indeed, the title of an important 2018 study from British researchers says it all: “Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression…”

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, the authors say that, “to this day, research practice, academic teaching and even physical activity promotion and prescription continues to consider a prevailing myth that exercise can temporarily suppress immune function.” Dead wrong, they say. They conclude ‘that regular physical activity and frequent exercise are beneficial, or at the very least, are not detrimental to immunological health.”

Okay.

How do you do work out if you’re stuck in quarantine and your gym is closed. Well, one thing is obvious. Go outside. If you’re physically able to get outdoors and if you stay six feet away from other people on the street or in the park, by all means, do it. Walk. Run. Skip. Whatever. Breathe fresh air. Catch a few rays. Wave to the others from that respectful distance.

And if, for whatever reason you can’t go outside? Bounce around inside. Try to get your heart rate up enough so that you can talk but not sing. If you’re watching TV, stand up to watch. Pick up your cell and pace around while you’re chatting. If you live in an apartment building, walk or jog in the hallways provided you keep away from other hall-walkers. If you have no hallways, put on some music and dance. Channel those prisoners who keep sane by pacing around their cells. If nothing else, practice balancing on one foot while you wash the dishes.

Keep going. Do yoga on the floor. Swing your arms. Do sit ups. Use books or jugs of water as weights to pump iron.

Above all, don’t stay glued to the computer or TV all day. As I put it in my book, “Sitting kills.” Sure, it’s tempting to blob around since you’re home anyway, but don’t. If you are using this home-bound time to write that novel or do your taxes, that’s terrific. But get up at least once an hour and walk around.

Obviously, if you do catch the coronavirus and especially if you have a fever, take it easy. But otherwise, get up and move. Your body will thank you. So will your mind.