Individuals at most risk for the severe effects of coronavirus have other medical complications or a compromised immune system. We know there is a strong link between hard exercise and our body’s defense system and the link is the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol levels, which increase during moderate to high intensity exercise, negatively impact our body’s defense mechanisms. Therefore the logical question is whether exercise increases our susceptibility to the coronavirus. To the contrary, multiple studies show individuals who exercise regularly have a stronger immune system than sedentary individuals. However, the benefits of exercise on your immune response is directly related to the volume and intensity of your exercise regimen. Frequent, extended duration, high intensity workouts can lower your defense mechanisms and make you more susceptible to colds or in this case the coronavirus.
Here are some simple recommendations to keep your immune system strong.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation causes an increase in cortisol levels independent of exercise.
- Maintain hydration levels before during and after your workout. Dehydration increases the cortisol response.
- Pay attention to refueling especially during a longer workout. Consuming a carbohydrate/protein sports drink during your workout will minimize cortisol elevation and muscle protein breakdown.
- Don't skip your recovery nutrition. Consuming a carbohydrate/protein recovery drink within 45 minutes post workout can pay dramatic dividends by reducing cortisol levels and minimize inflammation both factors which negatively impact your body's defense mechanisms.
- Reduce the number of high volume, high intensity workouts per week.
- Take a rest day after a particularly hard workout. This is a good practice even if there was not threat of coronavirus.
Last but not least, don’t stop exercising. In this time of heightened anxiety nothing relieves mental and physical stress better than exercise plus the added benefit of keeping your immune system strong.