I can’t tell you for certain that exercise will prevent infection, but it certainly can help maintain health. A new study from the UK looked at the effect of exercise on immune function. The authors wrote that it is widely agreed that regular, moderate intensity exercise is beneficial for immunity, but noted that some experts hold the opinion that more vigorous exercise can suppress immune function, which theoretically could heighten the risk of infection.
The researchers, University of Bath physiologists James Turner, Ph.D., and John Campbell, Ph.D., wrote that there is very limited evidence showing that exercise directly increases the risk of viral infections. “In the context of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the conditions we find ourselves in today, the most important consideration is reducing your exposure to other people who may be carrying the virus. But people should not overlook the importance of staying fit, active and healthy during this period.” Provided you can do so in isolation – away from others – regular daily exercise will help better maintain immune function, not suppress it, they reported.
They concluded that infections are more likely to be linked to inadequate diet, psychological stress, insufficient sleep, travel and, most importantly, exposure to pathogens at social gatherings such as marathons.
They added that continuing regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – walking, running or cycling – for a total of 150 minutes a week remains a healthy habit. If your capacity to exercise is limited because of a health condition or disability, it is still important to move: any physical activity is better than nothing.
Dr. Campbell added that people shouldn’t fear that exercise will somehow suppress the immune system and increase risk of infection with the coronavirus. Provided exercise is carried out according to guidance on social distancing, “regular exercise will have a tremendously positive effect on our health and wellbeing.”
I agree. The most important thing you can do to stay safe when exercising outdoors at this time is to keep your distance – at least six feet – from others.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
John P. Campbell and James E. Turner et al, “Can Exercise Affect Immune Function to Increase Susceptibility to Infection?” Exercise Immunology Review, 2020