Exercise and its role in our health

March 24, 2020 Office Manager

Post by Mal Fayers, B Phty APAM Physiotherapist

COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, has understandably dominated recent headlines. As tougher restrictions are implemented by the Australian Government, we find ourselves in uncertain waters. As lifestyles and daily routines change with social isolation and working from home, increase in sedentary behaviours become more apparent. More sitting, more lying, more screen time, and most importantly, less exercise. However, exercise is now more important than ever.

Why? Because regular physical activity is vital for both supporting the immune system and decreasing the risks and effects of chronic health problems. Research tells us that acute exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity, for less than 60 minutes, has an immediate impact on the immune system. This exercise stimulates a number of different immune cell subtypes (such as anti-inflammatory cytokines and T cells) and, with near daily exercise, these acute changes lead to enhanced immune defence, metabolic health, and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Research also tells us that too much exercise can have a negative effect on our immune systems. As such, it is important to get the balance right and not to overdo it.

Recently, researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne mapped the response of the immune system in a woman in her 40’s who tested positive for COVID-19 with moderate symptoms. Their findings concluded that a strong immune response was identified, and the patient recovered quickly, similarly to seasonal influenza. This tells us that a strong immune system is vital in fighting COVID-19, regardless of age, and reiterates the importance of maintaining a strong immune system.

Additionally, exercise is equally important for mental health. Exercise has a positive effect on a number of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and stress. The stimulation of neural pathways in the brain, the release of endorphins, and the release of pent up energy and stress will all contribute to better overall mental wellbeing. Exercise will also help to promote better memory and improve sleep quality.

With all of this in mind, exercise is incredibly important in the current climate. Exercising at home, in particular, is a safe and easy way to continue to support a strong immune system whilst maintaining social distancing. Aim for 20-30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day or two whilst performing a combination of strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular exercises.