Exercise Helps Keep You Immune From Illness (Yes, ALL Illness…)

In this day and age, how could a microscopic organism shut down the entire world? It sounds like a bad B movie: The Bizarre Virus That Took Over the Planet. What’s extra surreal is that healthy people really don’t have anything to fear from COVID, yet the crisis has caused health clubs across the country to close. Now, we can’t speak for everyone, but our hometown gym makes it a policy to disinfect the equipment daily plus provide spray bottles of industrial-strength disinfectant throughout the facility so members can clean the equipment before and after they use it on top of the cleaning the gym does. Right now, a well-run fitness club is probably the cleanest, healthiest place you can be. Yet, considering how contagious the coronavirus is and the many unknowns still surrounding it, you can kind of see why health officials want to minimize people’s interactions as much as possible. But! We digress…

Instead of debating the fine line drawn around health clubs designating them as “unessential,” we’re choosing to talk about some hard facts today. Like the fact that, generally, COVID is NOT a death sentence. Yes, it is highly contagious, and people have died from it, but the overwhelming majority who contract it recover. In fact, over 212,000 people worldwide who contracted the virus have already recovered. RECOVERED! That’s extremely good news, but no one is focusing on that because it wouldn’t stir up a frenzy. What’s more, because more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild and not life-threatening, it’s likely that the recovery rate is actually much better than is being reported.

The fact is, a vastly larger number of people die from the good old-fashioned flu every year. In the 2018-2019 flu season, 34,200 people died from basic influenza in the U.S. Plus, with influenza A and B hitting Americans from both sides, we’ve had a double-barreled flu season this year, so incoming mortality numbers from the flu are expected to match or exceed last year’s. At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 death-toll is around 2,860 and it’s true that the numbers are going up every day, so it’s hard to project what a total number will be by the end of it all. Still, the press won’t point out to you that there have been pandemics in the recent past that were at least as bad if not worse. Take H1N1 from 2009, for example. In one year, that insidious disease was responsible for over 12,400 U.S. deaths and killed about 575,400 people worldwide. As serious as the coronavirus is, when you take ALL the available information into consideration, this current outbreak doesn’t warrant the level of freakout it’s getting.

So, here’s the bottom line: most of those who do contract the coronavirus will recover from it and the basic treatment will be the same as the regular flu. You’re not even likely to be hospitalized and will convalesce at home, feeling feverish and achy, drinking lots of fluids and downing gallons of chicken soup but, odds are, you will recover.

That’s not to make light of the situation. Just putting it in perspective. Naturally, if you are sick –with anything!—or feel ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or any other illness, you should stay away from public places and avoid contact with anyone anyway. You should have already been practicing good hygiene—why did it take a worldwide pandemic to get you to wash your hands? Staying away from others when you’re sick and using soap, water, and hand disinfectant shouldn’t be your new normal. It should have been your normal all along. Helpful and interesting fact: did you know that the World Health Organization says only those infected should be wearing masks? If you’re not infected or caring for someone who is, you’re wasting a mask and that’s a shame, considering there’s currently a shortage of medical masks.

AND (you knew we were going to segue into an exercise lecture) you should be working out to stay healthy and reinforce your immune system. Exercise strengthens your entire body, not just your muscles. It makes all your cells stronger so they can fight off all diseases. In that light, we decided to pull out a previously published post on exercise and illness to provide a refresher for those who’ve forgotten how important working out is for your immune system. If nothing else, it’ll give you something to read during isolation:

Exercise During Cold and Flu Season

Starting in the fall and lasting until spring, the season of sickness typically peaks in late January/early February. It may be surprising, but the solution to staying healthy during this notorious time of year isn’t found in a doctor’s office or pill bottle.

Exercising Strengthens More Than Muscles

Exercise literally transforms your T cells, making them into warriors ready to fight infection and even cancer!

Building strength and losing weight are the typical reasons for working out, but physical activity also strengthens your immune system, which is essential for defending your body against all types of infection. Of course that includes colds and influenza, but EurekAlert! reports that exercise bolsters the immune system enough to fight off cancer. If working out can help defend against the #2 cause of death in America, it can be trusted to help you stay fairly healthy throughout cold and flu season. If you’re the type who needs science to prove that physical activity really does help, consider the study published in the American Journal of Medicine. It found that women who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise–as little as a 30-minute walk every day–had half the number of colds than women who did not exercise at all.

How Working Out Helps

Working out increases blood flow and your temperature, which flushes your system and helps your body fight off infection.

When something works well, it’s always interesting to know why it does. In the case of working out and exercise as cold remedies, however, doctors admit that they don’t know exactly why they are effective. According to MedlinePlus, some theorize that increased blood flow during exercise causes white blood cells and antibodies to circulate throughout your system more quickly. Also, when you exercise, your body temperature goes up kind of like when you have a fever, inhibiting bacteria growth and helping your body fight infection. The increased blood flow and quicker, elevated breathing during exercise flushes your system, helping eliminate bacteria from your airways and lungs, too. Plus, working out reduces stress hormones in your body which chip away at your immune system. Fewer stress hormones equal stronger immune defenses.

Benefits of a Healthy Diet

Packed with healthy, healing foods, chicken soup comes by its illness-fighting reputation naturally.

Nutrition plays a big part in staying healthy any time of the year. Healthy Eating recommends padding your diet during cold and flu season with immune-boosting foods such as garlic, beef and chicken, peanuts, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products that contain probiotic cultures. Chicken soup has a legitimate reputation for being a flu and cold remedy because it contains zinc from the chicken, antioxidants and vitamins from the veggies, and antibiotic and healing properties from garlic. Don’t wait until you get sick to stay hydrated, either. Drink plenty of water and fruit juices, specifically citrus juice which contains Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.

When You’re Sick

If increased heart rate is a side effect of your cold meds, skip exercise until you’re off medication.

When you do catch a cold, working out might be the last thing you feel like doing. However, working out is OK if you don’t have a fever, and exercise can even help you feel better. It will get your temperature up in a healthy way and increase blood flow. Plus, exercise often helps decongest your sinuses and lungs.

WebMD points out the importance of listening to your body to determine if an illness is serious enough to keep you from exercising. For example, if you have a fever, skip the workout. Also, taking prescription or over the counter cold and flu medications that affect heart rate is another reason to forego exercise. If you do decide to workout, don’t share your germs. Minimize the chances of passing on your cold by wiping down all the equipment you use when you’re finished and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.

If you aren’t able to make it into your health club because of enforced closures, do what you can at home and outside. It might even be a good chance to overcome a plateau you’ve been struggling with. We have some great resources here on our blog about working out at home and alternative workouts–the links are listed below. With a little extra time on your hands, make it a priority to stay active and stay healthy.

Outdoor Workouts

5 HIIT Workouts Including a No-Equipment Required Routine

25 Ways Your Health Benefits From Cycling

Stay Healthy With Tennis

Staying in Shape Away From the Gym

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