There is much that we don’t understand about the COVID-19 virus. What we do know, however, is the high death percentage associated with this virus is the result of a hyper response of the immune system. Immunologists call it a “cytokine storm”. Cytokines are proteins released by immune cells that modulate the immune response. There are two types of cytokines, pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory ones. When our body is exposed to a foreign invader such as COVID-19, cytokines are activated to neutralize and immobilize the invader. In response to COVID-19, the pro-inflammatory cytokines are super activated which can lead to severe blockage of the airway passages and death. This is the “cytokine storm” and the storm can even be more severe when the patient has conditions which already compromise their immune response, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What is particularly noteworthy is the effect of exercise on our cytokine response. Following an exhaustive bout of exercise there is an increase in the pro-inflammatory cytokine. However, this increase tends to be temporary and levels return to normal within 24-48 hours. The important long term effect of exercise is that it enhances immune response. Compared to sedentary individuals, regular exercisers demonstrate improved immune function which improves their ability to fight infection. Regular exercisers are also better able to maintain the critical balance between pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines.
The bottom line – it is even more important during this pandemic to maintain your workout program and keep your immune system functioning optimally.