Boosting your immune system through exercise.

Exercise may reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. 

A recent review of existing studies in light of COVID-19 leads one researcher to suggest that exercise may prevent or reduce severity of symptoms for those with the COVID-19 virus. More specifically, the CDC estimates that 20-40% of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and research suggests that for about 45% of those who develop ARDS, the condition is terminal.

Dr. Yan reviewed previous studies looking at the function of a particular antioxidant that is known to protect tissues and help prevent disease. Exercise, even a single session of exercise, increases the body’s production of this antioxidant, and he believes that the benefits of exercise could prevent or reduce the likelihood that someone will develop ARDS if they are infected with the COVID-19 virus. While the studies are not conclusive, and have not been done on this particular virus, as Dr. Yan says, “we do not have to wait until we know everything…regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know.”

But we already knew exercise was good for us!

I know, I know, it’s no surprise that exercise is good for you. But sometimes specific facts can help get us moving. So here are a few more reasons that exercise is beneficial. 

Consider that exercise increases the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps brain growth by increasing new brain cells and strengthening the connection between brain cells. Exercise often helps with better sleep, increases productivity, prevents some chronic diseases, reduces the risk of Alzheimers, improves hormone regulation, and has been shown to be as effective as drugs in treating depression for some individuals.

Exercise also has tremendous mental health benefits and can help to reduce the stress we are under in light of the COVID-19 virus. The World Health Organization advises that “[e]ven a short break from sitting, by doing 3-5 minutes of physical movement, such as walking or stretching, will help ease muscle strain, relieve mental tension and improve blood circulation and muscle activity.” 

Want even more information and sources? Get a copy of a previous article I wrote here

I am stuck at home without my normal routine – how can I possibly exercise? 

How do you maintain a regular exercise routine when you must limit contact with others, gyms are likely closed in your area, and you are likely stuck with what you have at home?

Here are a variety of thoughts. It will depend on your starting point, choose a goal that works for you. And while regular exercise is great and something to strive for, regular movement is also important to – avoid sitting for extensive periods by getting up to stretch, walk around, or take a quick dance break. 

So here we go, in no particular order. 

  1. If you do not already have an exercise routine in place, start small and focus on movement. Take walk breaks around the house, do a little work in the garden, or go for a short walk in the neighborhood. Build up slowly in consultation with your body (yes, I should probably say doctor, if you think you should consult your doctor than do, but your body will be a good indicator of what you are capable of too).
  2. Set an alarm to get up and move every 20-30 minutes. (I have heard 60 recommended, but the World Health Organization recommends every 20-30!) so why not move at least every 30 minutes!
  3. Set a regular schedule. You may have more flexibility right now, so your natural routines may no longer exist. If you create your own routine, you are more likely to get exercise done. If it is not scheduled, it is much less likely to happen. 
  4. Changes to your body through exercise – muscle building, flexibility, mobility, cardiovascular fitness – these all take a LOT of time to develop. Don’t expect changes to happen overnight or after the first few weeks. Set a pace you can stick with and stay consistent.
  5. Get your whole family involved. I have seen a family in the neighborhood out for a run the last few days. I have never seen them before. There are two parents and two kids. They aren’t quite at the same pace, but clearly a family out running. They wear masks, and yesterday I noticed at least one was in jeans. I’m guessing they aren’t a family of runners – but they are taking the opportunity now to start moving as a family! It’s awesome to see!
  6. What I am doing: I use Gymnastics bodies for a strength workout and I’m loving it, I ride my bike on my indoor trainer (though it is about time to start getting outside more), and I go for jogs in the neighborhood. I am also walking a lot more than I used to. I walk during phone calls, while listening to an audio book, or just because.
  7. Here are stretches from the World Health Organization.
  8. A list of some other free online exercise programs.
  9. Search YouTube and your search engine for other free (or paid) exercise programs that will work with whatever you have in your home. Or consider investing in some equipment if there is a program you think you will stick with – whether weights, yoga equipment – whatever works for you and that is something you will likely stick with.
  10. AirBnB is offering online experiences, which include some yoga, dance, and other exercise classes.
  11. Garden in the yard, clean the house, wash the dog, etc.

Have other ideas to share? Let me know in the comments or email liz@scerf.com. 

*Thanks to Dr. Rhonda Patrick for sharing Dr. Yan’s research via Twitter. She is doing great work to share information to keep us healthy in light of the coronavirus, check out that work and her earlier work here.

*For some other ideas about increasing productivity through exercise, get an earlier article I wrote here. 

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