Practising social distancing is now the norm in every country and a requirement in Singapore. However, for those who want to maintain their levels of fitness during these trying times, the question of whether or not to continue with their regular gym sessions is one that is assuming ever-increasing importance. Is it safe to go to the gym – and will regular exercise boost the immune system in a way that will help individuals build resistance to the virus?
There are a number of studies that have shown that exercise can influence the body’s immune system (can exercise affect immune function to increase susceptibility to infection? Exercise immunology review 26:8-22 · January 2020) This is called ‘exercise immunity’. This refers to both systemic (whole-body cellular response) and the health of the mucosal system (the mucous lining of the respiratory tract). This has implications in the age of the Coronavirus.
The 1998 Hong Kong flu provided researchers with an opportunity to study the effects of exercise on building the immune system. A study conducted in Hong Kong during the 1998 outbreak showed that from those who were infected, who did not exercise at all – or too much exercise (over 5 days of exercise in a week) were at greatest risk of dying.
So, Should I be Going to Gym?
It is apparent from the research that you should continue going to the gym and engaging in cardiovascular exercise. There are a couple of reasons to keep up with your gym routine, but there are some factors to keep in mind. The key to maintaining the bodies immune system seems to be finding the sweet spot as far as the frequency of exercise is concerned.
Let’s first look at frequency. Fitness experts tend to agree that the ideal approach is to do mild to moderate exercise three times a week for periods of around 45 minutes. During the periods where there is a quarantine in place or there is the risk of exposure to a virus, those who regularly attend a gym should strive to maintain their levels of fitness or strength – not go for massive gains.
It may seem counterintuitive, but too much exercise may harm the body’s immune system.
Studies in the United States on collegiate football players and cross-country runners revealed something interesting when both types of athletes trained extremely hard. The increased levels of exertion led to a decrease in ‘secretory immunoglobulin A’ (sIgA). SIgA is an antibody protein which allows the immune system to neutralize pathogens, including viruses. When sIgA levels go down upper respiratory tract infections go up.
More Reasons to Exercise Regularly during the Virus Outbreak
According to research published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America’ and entitled ‘Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk’ chronic anxiety can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of infection. Anxiety increases the activity of the amygdala, the ‘fear centre’ of the brain.
The damage prolonged hyperactivity of the amygdala causes to the body’s cells triggers an immune response that makes us more susceptible to a foreign pathogen. There is evidence to suggest that this may increase our risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
According to the Mayo Clinic in the United States exercise makes the brain produce more endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. The feelings of wellbeing caused by the increased production of endorphins help us deal with stressful situations. Exercise also increases levels of fatigue allowing us to sleep better at night – a major contributing factor in helping the mind deal with stress.
Continue to attend your gym. Maintain your current levels of fitness and do not overdo it. Use common sense and follow the guidelines for disinfecting surfaces and social distancing. Exercise during this time of stress is good for both body and mind.
Our Commitment to Our Members
We have committed ourselves to the safety and welfare of our members. The gym has always prided itself on being a safe environment for those who enjoy a healthy lifestyle. The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has focused us on a new level of commitment to ensuring that the gym is even safer for our members in these trying times. We have increased the frequency of our disinfection activity and are committed to strictly adhering to the recommendations of the Ministry of Health. We are monitoring the situation carefully and implementing processes in order to ensure the wellbeing of our members and staff.