COVID-19 and your health: How does fitness keep your immune system in good shape? | Fit Futures

COVID-19 & YOUR HEALTH: HOW DOES FITNESS KEEP YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM IN GOOD SHAPE?

Early this year (2020), the airwaves buzzed with news of a new virus. What made the news more interesting was the fact that the virus had a very fast rate of transmission.

Originating late last year from a Wuhan food market, China, the virus has spread as far as the United States and the Philippines. Its official name is SARS-CoV-2. Tens of thousands have been affected, and over 4000 people have died.

Being infected with SARS-CoV-2 puts a person at great risk of the disease. The name of the disease is COVID-19, meaning coronavirus disease 19.

Although it has been declared a global pandemic, your chances of contracting this virus is very slim unless you have touched or established contact with a person who has the virus.

In this article, we will take a general look at the Coronavirus, and how to prepare your immune system to fight infection. Does staying fit help your body to fight off an infection? This will also be answered. Read on!

 

Does the COVID-19 have any symptoms?

Discoveries are being made about the coronavirus almost daily. So far, we understand that COVID-19 may not show any symptoms at the early stage.

An infected person may carry the virus for 48 hours or even up to two weeks before manifesting any symptoms.

Common symptoms of the COVID-19 include:

  • Dyspnea (low breathing rate or shortness of breath)
  • Cough (with a gradual increase in severity)
  • A low-grade fever whose temperature increases gradually

 

What should you do if you experience symptoms of COVID-19?

If you have been infected by SARS-CoV-2, or you have the disease itself, then get immediate medical care.

There are many options for accessing good health care. This includes contacting your primary healthcare provider. The CDC recommends that you talk to your doctor first so they can take the right steps to prepare for your coming and also protect other people from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2.

Other healthcare providers offer virtual consultation services which you can access through your laptop or smartphone.

 

What causes coronavirus?

The coronavirus is a zoonotic virus. This means that they develop first in animals before they are transmitted to humans.

Before human contact the virus, he or she must make close contact with an infected animal.

Once the virus starts developing in humans, it can then spread among humans through droplets from the respiratory tract. Respiratory droplets are the wet stuff that gets into the air when you sneeze or cough.

The virus is housed itself in these droplets and a person standing nearby can breathe this into his or her respiratory tract (lungs and windpipe). From there, an infection is imminent.

Health authorities have not linked the 2019 coronavirus to any specific animal. According to researchers, there is the possibility that the virus may have passed from bats to snakes or pangolins, and from there to humans. The transmission started at the Wuhan open food market, China.

 

Who is at high risk?

Your risk of getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus is on the high side if you’ve been exposed to the saliva of an already-infected person, or you’ve stood near them while they coughed or sneezed.

Susceptibility to this virus is higher in older men. A report by the World Health Organization which came in by late January found that the median age for contracting this virus was 45 years, and at least two-third of those infected were male.

 

How can you prepare your body to fight the virus?

Boosting your immune system is a very enticing idea. However, doing this has proven elusive for some reason. The immune system is a system as the name implies. It is not just one entity. For it to function optimally, it needs to be balanced. There’s also a need for harmony. Researchers have not fully understood the interconnectedness and intricacies of the immune response. Presently, there’s no direct evidence proving any relationship between lifestyle & improved immune function.

But then, lifestyle still has intriguing effects on immunity, and so research is ongoing. Researchers are investigating the role of exercise & fitness on immunity and they help to fight infections such as the novel coronavirus. Other factors being explored include diet, psychological stress, and age. In the meantime, general healthy living tips will help to boost your immune system and of course, give your body a fighting chance against the coronavirus and other infections.

The key to defense is adopting a healthy lifestyle. Adopting general good-health guidelines is key to keeping your immune system healthy and strong. All parts of your body, your immune system included, work better when it is protected from invasions, and assaults from the environment. They also work well when given a boost by the following healthy-living strategies:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Eating a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits
  • Regular exercise and fitness
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Moderating your intake of alcohol
  • Having adequate sleep
  • You should also take adequate steps to avoid infection, like frequent washing of the hands and cooking your foods thoroughly.
  • Minimize stress

There are many so-called immune-supporting or immune-boosting products on store shelves. But here’s the thing – they don’t make any sense scientifically. Increasing the number of immune cells in your body isn’t necessarily a good thing. For instance, athletes who do “blood doping” – that is pumping blood into their systems in a bid to enhance their blood cell count and boost their performance – often have a very high risk of strokes.

Boosting your immune cells is a complicated venture because so many cells make up your immune system. These cells respond to various microbes in different ways. The question is – which cells require boosting, and to what number? Presently, the answer isn’t known. But we know that the body continually generates immune cells. It produces a lot more lymphocytes than it can use. These excess cells are removed through a process known as apoptosis. Some cells undergo apoptosis even before they are involved in any immune action. No one knows the number of cells or the best mix required by the immune system to function optimally.

To prevent the coronavirus:

The best way to limit the spread is by avoiding contact with infected people or people who show symptoms of COVID-19. Apart from that, you should also limit contact with people that have symptoms of any respiratory infection.

It is also important that you practice good hygiene. This will help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.

Other preventive tips include:

  • Frequent washing of the hands – at least 20 seconds at a time with soap and warm water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, face, mouth, or nose with dirty hands.
  • Don’t go out if you’re sick or are experiencing symptoms of flu or cold.
  • Maintain a distance of at least three feet from anyone who is sneezing or coughing.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use the inside of your elbow to cover. If you use tissues, discard them right after usage.
  • Clean all the objects that you’ve touched. Wipe your phones, utensils, computers, doorknobs or dishware with disinfectants.

 

How does keeping fit boost your immune system and prevent viral infections?

You see, some things tend to offer our bodies protection against the flu and colds. Moderate and consistent exercise is one of those things. Studies show that there is a link between moderate and consistent exercise and a healthy immune system.

Early research found that people who engaged in recreational exercises reported fewer episodes of cold once they began the regular exercise. Moderate exercise and fitness is linked to a boost in immune response and a temporary increase in macrophage production. Macrophages are white blood cells that attack bacteria. The idea is that consistent exercise has long-term substantial benefits on immune health.

Recent studies have shown that the immune system undergoes physiological changes as a response to exercise and fitness training. When you engage in moderate fitness training, your immune cells circulate quickly through your body and so, are better capable of killing viruses and bacteria. After you are done with the exercise, your immune system activity will return to normal in a matter of hours. However, consistent exercise prolongs these changes.

Studies conducted by Pennsylvania State University Researchers examined sedentary and active women and how exercise impacted on their immune systems. The subjects were grouped into three:

  • The first group exercised for 30 minutes on a treadmill
  • The second group exercised intensely for 30 seconds
  • The last group performed no exercise at all

The women who participated in the study had their blood drawn before, after, and at different intervals in the weeks following the fitness sessions.

Results from the study showed that moderate and regular exercise increases the number of specific antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are called immunoglobulins. An increase in immunoglobulin levels ultimately makes the immune system stronger. For the women who led a sedentary life, there was no improvement whatsoever in their immune function. They also had high cortisol levels compared to those who were active.

It isn’t just physical exertion (exercise and fitness) that boosts adrenaline and cortisol release. Psychological stress impairs immunity as well and also increases flu and cold infections.

Ohio State Researchers followed people who passed through the stress of caring for friends and loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. It was discovered that they experienced more cold episodes than non-caregivers. Such people would benefit from moderate, regular exercise.

It is worth noting that moderate fitness and training sessions is not just the only way to avoid flu or other viral infections. You must follow guidelines for avoiding germs and viral infections when you are at the gym.

 

Very intense exercise can reduce your immunity

Studies have shown that intensive exercises can reduce a person’s immunity. According to research, performing high-intensity exercises for up to 90 minutes can make an individual susceptible to illness for at least 72 hours after the fitness session.

Adrenaline and cortisol, both stress hormones, increases blood pressure and cholesterol levels and also suppress the immune system. This increases the susceptibility to illnesses in athletes after intense exercise.

If you are undergoing endurance training, you must rest sufficiently so that your immune system can undergo a full recovery.

If you are feeling ill, then try not to exercise too intensely. Your immune system is already saddled with the task of fighting off infections. Extra stress can make recovery somewhat harder. Generally, if you experience mild cold without any fever, moderate or light exercise can improve your feelings and also boost your immune system. Intense exercises worsen the symptoms and prolong illness.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201-217.  doi: 0.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009

Palmer Garry MD, Reid G. Elite Performance Running: from Middle Distance to Marathon. A&C Black Publishers, Ltd. 2009

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020).cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation report – 7. (2020).
who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200127-sitrep-7-2019–ncov.pdf

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation report – 49. (2020).
who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200309-sitrep-49-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=70dabe61_2

Chang D, et al. (2020). Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of novel coronavirus infections involving 13 patients outside Wuhan, China. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.1623

Wang D, et al. (2020). Clinical characteristics of 138 hospitalized patients with 2019 novel coronavirus–infected pneumonia in Wuhan, China. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.1585

Wang W, et al. (2020). Updated understanding of the outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Wuhan, China. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31994742

Xu Y, et al. (2007). Evaluation of the safety, immunogenicity, and pharmacokinetics of equine anti-SARS-CoV F(ab’)(2) in macaque. DOI: 10.1016/j.intimp.2007.09.011

Zhu N, et al. (2020). A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019. DOI:
10.1056/NEJMoa2001017

2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates. (2020).cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm

 


Disclaimer: The exercises and information provided by Fit Futures Learning Institute (T/A Fit Futures Academy) (www.fitfutures.co.nz) are for educational and entertainment purposes only, and are not to be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product or course of action. Read the full content disclaimer.