There are many stories being presented about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the news. When you watch TV and see that every station is discussing COVID-19, feelings of fear may come up. As the virus spreads and less people are gathering together, now is an important time to implement healthy habits and self care. Our fitness trainers Stefano Sarge and Jesse Hershey are committed to supporting you on your fitness journey during this challenging time.
What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that can lead to symptoms of a common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats, MERS-CoV from dromedary camels, and COVID-19 from bats. Several known coronaviruses are also circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
How does our body react?
When dealing with a virus or pandemic like this, our physiological survival instincts can trigger. Have you ever heard of fight or flight? We can lose focus on the bigger picture and make quick, rash decisions with tunnel vision. When illness and death is a possibility, we may experience some signs of panic, depression, sadness, and anxiety. To combat this, practice breathing exercises, meditation, and gratitude on a daily basis. When possibly infected with this virus our body may show a few of the following symptoms.
Common signs of infection include:
- respiratory symptoms
- shortness of breath and breathing difficulties
- In more severe cases, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Recommendations from the CDC to Prevent the Spread of Infection:
- Regular hand washing (over 20 seconds)
- Sanitizing with hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Immediately wash hands.
- Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as sore throat, coughing and sneezing
- Stay home if sick
- Masks are ONLY needed if you are sick
- Clean and disinfect with bleach or solution with at least 70% alcohol content
When dealing with viruses, antibiotics do not work, as they only treat bacterial infections. The new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalized for the 2019-nCoV, you may receive antibiotics because a bacterial infection is possible.
How can exercise help?
Research has established a link between consistent, moderate exercise and a strong immune system. Our immune systems help us fend off bacteria, viruses, and disease! Early studies reported that recreational exercisers reported fewer colds once they began exercising and running. Moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response and a temporary boost in the production of macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria. We highly recommend regular, consistent exercise to substantially strengthen our immune system’s health over the long term. More recent studies have shown during moderate exercise, immune cells roam through the body quicker and are more effective in killing bacteria and viruses. After exercise ends, the immune system generally returns to normal within a few hours, but consistent, regular exercise leads to longer-lasting effects.
Consistent, Moderate Exercise Linked to Stronger Immune System
According to professor David Nieman, DrPH of Appalachian State University, when moderate exercise is repeated on a near-daily basis there is a compounding effect that leads to a long-term immune system response. His research showed that those who perform a moderate-intensity walk for 40 minutes per day had half as many sick days due to colds or sore throats compared to those who do not exercise. Half as many!
Martin et al. also conducted extensive research and literature reviews with “evidence to support the hypothesis that moderate intensity exercise reduces inflammation and improves the immune response to respiratory viral infections” (3).
High Intensity Can Weaken the Immune System
On the other hand, (…and this is important) there is also evidence that too much high intensity exercise can reduce immunity. Research shows that more than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise can put individuals at a higher risk of being susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session. This is important information for those who compete in longer duration events such as long distance running, biking, swimming, or frequent high intensity workouts. Intense exercise seems to cause a temporary decrease in the immune system’s abilities. During intense physical exercise, the body produces certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity. Cortisol and adrenaline, known as the stress hormones, raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while suppressing the immune system.
Ultimately, prolonged, intense exercise causes immunosuppression, while moderate intensity exercise improves immune function and potentially reduces risk and severity of respiratory viral infections; this occurs both when infection is not present, as well as when infection is present (3).
How a compromised immune system affects Fitness Enthusiasts and Competitive Athletes:
Fitness enthusiasts and endurance athletes alike are often uncertain of whether they should exercise or rest when sick. Most sports-medicine experts in this area recommend that if you have symptoms of a common cold with no fever (that is, symptoms are above the neck), moderate exercise such as walking is probably safe. High intensity exercise should be postponed for a few days after the symptoms have gone away. However, if there are symptoms or signs of the flu (fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches, swollen lymph glands), then at least two weeks should be allowed before you resume high intensity training.
For athletes and those training intensely for competition, the following guidelines can help reduce the risk of getting sick:
- Eat a well-balanced diet—The immune system depends on many vitamins and minerals for optimal function.
- Avoid rapid weight loss—too low-calorie diets, long-term fasting and rapid weight loss have been shown to impair immune function. Losing too much weight while training heavily is not good for the immune system.
- Obtain adequate sleep—Major sleep disruptions (getting three hours less than normal) have been linked to immune suppression.
- Avoid overtraining and chronic fatigue—Space vigorous workouts and race events as far apart as possible. Keep “within yourself” and don’t push beyond your ability to recover.
If you are going to exercise while sick, Dr. Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic provides the following recommendations (2):
- Avoid exercise if you have a fever, muscle pain, or chest discomfort, hacking cough, or upset stomach
- Decrease intensity and duration
You should wait to resume intense training until a few days after resolving your upper respiratory infection (1). If a viral infection does have symptoms throughout the body (i.e. fever, muscle aches, chest congestion) exercise is not recommended (1, 2). Some viruses have a tendency to invade heart muscle and increase cardiac complications even in healthy people; others have been shown to increase the risk of other serious illnesses such as meningitis and rhabdomyolysis (1). If any of these symptoms are present, you should wait 2-4 weeks before achieving your previous full intensity of exercise again (1).
Practicing these activities on a daily-basis will help to improve your overall mental, physical, and emotional health:
- Limit exposure to media outlets presenting on the virus to once or twice daily
- Connect with your friends and loved ones
- Do your best not to focus on things you cannot control; instead focus on what you can control such as personal hygiene and exposure.
- Take time everyday to practice gratitude
- Exercise, even outdoors (Get some fresh air!)
- Eat a healthy/balanced diet that won’t compromise your immune system and gut health
- Get adequate sleep
- Indulge in hobbies (books, music, games, movies, tv shows, etc.)
We would love to hear your thoughts and answer any questions in the comments below!
If you have any further questions or would like “at-home” workouts, please connect with our trainers via email at:
Jesse Hershey: email@example.com
Stefano Sarge: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Brooks, GA, Fahey, TD, and Baldwin, KM. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications. 4th Ed. 2005. McGraw Hill: Boston, MA.
- Laskowski, ER. (n.d.). Is it OK to exercise if I have a cold? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/exercise/expert-answers/faq-20058494
- Martin, S, et al (2009). Exercise and respiratory tract viral infection. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2009 October; 37(4): 157–164. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2803113/
- Walsh, NP, et al. Position statement: part one: immune function and exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev. 2011;17:6-63. Retrieved from: http://www.medizin.uni-tuebingen.de/transfusionsmedizin/institut/eir/content/2011/6/article.pdf