Typically, when considering factors that support the immune system, rest, hydration, disinfection, and vitamin intake (through supplements or proper nutrition) are the most commonly discussed. Another factor – exercise – can also be a dominant force of protecting the body from potentially harmful invaders. However, experts are warning against exercising for those infected with SARS-CoV-2, as it presents different risks than the average cold or flu. While normal routines can be re-established after recovery, “pushing through” can bring more harm than good.
Exercise, Illness & the Immune System
Usually the last thing on our minds when feeling under the weather is exercising, for good reason. When the body is fighting an invader, it recruits a substantial amount of energy to power the immune system. Most of the time, rest is the most important way to support the body as it heals, however, moderate exercise may be beneficial in clearing airways or opening nasal passages. Many experts recommend the advice: if the sickness is affecting areas above the neck, it’s usually OK to moderately exercise, but if symptoms affect below the neck, including the chest, stomach, fever or body aches, exercise could make things worse.
When it comes to preventing illness by supporting the immune system, this is where exercise truly shines. Research has shown a clear inverse relationship between moderate exercise and illness risk, as well as an anti-inflammatory influence. Scientists have also found that habitual exercise improves immune regulation. These immune-boosting benefits provide yet another reason why incorporating regular exercise into a healthy lifestyle is essential in preventing infection and disease.
Why is COVID-19 Different?
Many may rely on “pushing through” a sickness by exercising, but with COVID-19, it’s a different story. By now we know COVID-10 is a unique virus. Unlike a simple cold, the virus causing COVID-19 goes deeper into airways, more intensely affecting the lungs. In severe cases, the virus can affect other organs in the body like the heart, kidneys, nervous system, and can cause blood clots. While scientists and doctors are still learning about the nuances that come with COVID-19, it’s safe to presume that the body requires rest and healing when infected with the virus, and not physical activity.
How to Return to Exercise
Getting back to a regular exercise routine after any illness takes time, but more care should be taken after testing positive for COVID-19, even if you are asymptomatic. Because of the potential harm the virus can wreak on the heart, and the impact exercise has on heart muscles, physicians suggest abstaining from exercise for at least 2 weeks after symptoms resolution. For those who test positive and are asymptomatic, it is also recommended to wait 2 weeks before taking part in physical exertion.
Returning to exercise should also be gradual, starting slow and taking note on how the body feels. The more severe the case, the more potential for long-term physical consequences from the infection, so even more time and care should be taken before returning to an intense fitness regimen. In any case, it’s best to consult your doctor on what is best for your health and if there is an option to return to gyms or studios for exercise, keep in mind safe sanitation and practice social distancing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought several unforeseen challenges, including disrupting healthy activities like exercise. Recovering from any sickness, whether it be COVID-19 or another infection, should be prioritized over training, but in time, regular fitness routines can be re-established and continue to benefit overall health by further supporting the immune system.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice. If you have any further questions, or would like to seek recommendations, contact your physician or healthcare provider.