COVID-19 and physical activity

How physical activity supports immunity

Exercise is beneficial for the immune system; therefore, physical activity effectively reduces hospitalization rates of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). A strong positive relationship has been identified between physical activity level and immune system support, Exercise training is associated with more effective immune defense and better glycemic control, both of which can play a role in SARS-CoV-induced immune cell activation. Physical activity has been shown in some studies to boost immunity against viruses, as exercise can induce significant movement of leukocytes (part of our immune system) in blood and tissues.

Being active has also been linked to improved immune response by reducing fat tissue, which facilitates the enhancement of low-grade chronic inflammation. Regular exercise for at least 6 months has been shown to prevent age-related immune dysfunction, chronic low-grade inflammation and increase flu vaccination efficacy in elderly populations without causing harm. Because the elderly are more prone to infection, which might lead to significant health risk, the benefits of exercise on immune function might be particularly important among those with COVID-19. Several studies have shown that daily physical exercise correlates with lower influenza and pneumonia mortality and incidence rates. This actively demonstrates that physical activity is a successful strategy against hospitalization rates of respiratory viral diseases, such as COVID-19, and enhances the immune system.

Regular exercise may therefore help to prevent the onset of severe COVID-19 disease. A recent study revealed a substantial association between the balance and variability in the timing of exercise and rest was more closely correlated with the risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 or the rate of severe COVID-19 than ‘normal’ measures of activity, such as moderate to intense physical activities. It has been suggested that people who met physical activity requirements on a regular basis, or even those who did some physical activity, were less likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the ICU and die than those who were physically inactive during the 2 years prior to the pandemic.

Physical inactivity was also the greatest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, after advanced age and a history of organ transplant. More recent attention has focused on the number of steps per day and other exercise measures, as staying physically active encourages cardiovascular health and improved exercise stress testing outcomes. Just ten and a half minutes of light-intensity physical activity has a beneficial impact in improving heart and metabolic health in individuals who cannot follow the guidelines recommendations. Achieving a daily step count of more than 7,500 steps appears to be sufficient for individuals to reap health benefits.

As a result of the current pandemic and the need for social distancing approaches, home-based exercise may influence our daily activity. This finding, while preliminary, suggests that home-based exercise could be an important element of future physical activity guidelines. Many recommendations emphasize increasing physical activity as an important part of treatment for many chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and musculoskeletal disorders. Furthermore, physical activity has significant health benefits, including lowering mortality rates. It is never to late to implement and exercise program, but one word of caution is to consult your healthcare professional to avoid unexpected issues.

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