HEALTH AND FITNESS: Exercise and your immune system – Aiken Standard

Posted: March 22, 2020 at 9:50 pm

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Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Among other benefits, regulating physical activity can have a positive effect on your immune system. Exercise increases the activity of certain immune cells called helper T cells, making the immune system response to viruses more robust.

This is particularly relevant now that we are experiencing an outbreak of a novel coronavirus that can lead to a disease called COVID-19 which causes respiratory symptoms similar to the seasonal flu but can progress to more serious conditions like pneumonia. As the virus spreads, more and more infections, hospitalizations and deaths are counted each day in the U.S. and around the world. At this point, it is reasonable to expect that COVID-19 is spreading in our community, so we should all take steps to protect ourselves from infection and do what we can to reduce the risk of serious illness.

Smart advice from the CDC includes avoiding close contact with people who are sick since COVID-19 can be spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The CDC also advises avoiding large crowds where the virus may spread more easily. In fact, many events and gatherings including concerts, sports, meetings and church services have been canceled and some schools are closed. When you are out in public, try to keep a three- to six-foot distance between yourself and others and replace handshakes and hugs with a friendly elbow bump.

The virus can also spread through surfaces, so you can also protect yourself by washing your hands frequently with soap and water and not touching your eyes, nose or mouth. If soap and water is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a good alternative. The CDC does not recommend wearing a mask or gloves to protect yourself unless you are sick or are caring for someone who is sick.

Good nutrition is also important for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of certain nutrients can have a negative effect on immune function, so eating a balanced diet is essential. That said, there is no support for boosting the immune system by taking high doses of vitamins, minerals or other supplements, despite the claims made by supplement companies. In fact, the majority of nutritional supplements have not undergone appropriate testing, and for those supplements that have been tested, the results are not consistent with the claims. It is especially important to note that there are no foods, nutrients or supplements that are effective against specific viruses, including the COVID-19 virus. Any claims that a certain supplement can prevent COVID-19 are false!

Poor sleep habits are associated with suppressed immunity and more frequent illness. High levels of stress can also increase susceptibility to viruses. Stress and poor sleep habits tend to occur together, creating a double negative effect on the immune system. Getting enough sleep should always be a priority, especially now.

A couple of final notes about exercise and the immune system. While moderate exercise can boost the immune system, very vigorous and prolonged exercise can have the opposite effect. You may wonder if it is safe to go to the gym to work out. The COVID-19 virus isnt spread through sweat, but, like any virus, it can be spread through the air and surfaces by infected people, especially in a crowded gym or exercise class. Washing your hands, not touching your face and making sure to wipe down equipment, including weights, is important. That said, this would be a good time to exercise outdoors where the risk of viral spread is lower, and you can get the benefits of exercising in the fresh air and sunshine!

Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. You can learn more about this and other health and fitness topics at or on Twitter @drparrsays.

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HEALTH AND FITNESS: Exercise and your immune system - Aiken Standard

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March 22nd, 2020 at 9:50 pm

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