Science Made Simple: ACSM's Exercise, Immunity, and the Covid-19 Pandemic

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Science Made Simple: ACSM's Exercise, Immunity, and the Covid-19 Pandemic

I recently came across an excellent article by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) called "Exercise, Immunity, and the COVID-19 Pandemic," written by Richard J. Simpson, Ph.D., FACSM. It's worth reading. Although it's not a super clinical read, it isn't exactly accessible either. However, the material is essential for more people to hear.

This blog post will be a layman's summary of the article intended to make the content shorter and easier to read, and I'll link to the full article if you'd like to read it for yourself.

Our immune system defends us against disease and infection, and it is well established that exercise has a profound impact on our immune system's ability to do its job. To be more specific, performing moderate to vigorous full-body exercise has a massive effect on your immune function. The benefits include better response to vaccination, less chronic inflammation, and improved markers (indicators) for things like cancer, HIV, heart disease, cognitive impairment, and obesity.

Now the question is, how can exercise help protect you from infection? The short answer is we don't know for sure, but tons of research suggests it could be quite beneficial.

You're probably aware of the negative impacts, generally speaking, of not exercising. Right now, exercise has become more difficult for most of us with gyms, and even parks, being closed down. What isn't being talked about nearly enough is the known adverse effects of isolation and confinement on immunity.

The combination of confinement, isolation, and lack of exercise is the perfect mix to inhibit your immune systems ability to function. Your immune system's ability to produce the cells that hunt down and kill cancerous or infected cells goes down substantially. But that's not all; your body's ability to protect more vulnerable areas, primarily your lungs, goes down significantly. As a result, viruses and other pathogens can gain a 'foothold' much more easily, and you're far more likely to be infected.

The same mechanisms that prevent you from getting infected also have the ability to reduce the severity of an illness if you do become infected. Simply put, if you're isolated, confined, and out of shape, you're susceptible to getting sick, and if you do get sick, the symptoms are likely to be more severe and last longer.

You probably think I'm a Debbie Downer, but I promise I also have good news!

Here is the cool part; every single bout of exercise your perform, especially exercise that challenges your cardiorespiratory system (heart and lungs), activates billions of cells that seek and destroy virus-infected cells. The immune benefits of exercise are ESPECIALLY beneficial to older populations; the same group that is considered most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The moral of the story is that during times of confinement and a pandemic it's critical for you to stay healthy by exercising regularly. There is no real research right now on how COVID-19 is effected by exercise but there is a plethora of research that shows that exercise significantly counters the negative impact of other common virus's like the flu, common cold, herpes, ebv, and many others.

In the article Dr. Richard Simpson outlines their fascinating research on the impact of exercise on the health and immunity of astronauts before, during, and after their 6 month trips to the international space station. They found that atronauts in better cardio condition were less likely to have past viral infections reflare during and after the trip. Basically, their immune system fought harder and longer than less conditioned astronauts.

Astronauts with poorer conditioning measurably higher rates of reactivation of viral infections. Their research suggests that this is largely due to confinement and shows that exercise is most likely an excellent countermeasure to maintain immune function and fight infection.

In summary, these are unusual times that place unique stress, physically and mentally, on our bodies ability fight infection. It's critical that you find ways to stay active and healthy. There's no guarantee that this will prevent you from getting sick, but it does lower your risk and will likely reduce the impact of any illness you do get.

So get out, get active, and stay healthy, for yourself, your family, and your community.

If you have questions or comments leave them below. And as always, I always want to address what matters to YOU so let me know what interests you for future blogs!

As I said before, this is a short and simplified version of the ACSM's article on exercise and COVID-19 which I HIGHLY recommend you check out if you found this blog useful.


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