What are active people to do, or not do, during a global pandemic?
In any given week this winter, outside of work, I instructed two senior exercise classes, played 2-3 games of hockey, walked/hiked up to 5 km, and was training for a 45 km mountain bike race in April. Then along came COVID-19 and my weekly exercise plans ground to a sudden halt. In addition, future events have already been cancelled or delayed, among them a hockey tournament and mountain bike race, so far. In addition to the exercise, what I really miss is the social camaraderie and the motivation of my teammates and training partners. I also use my exercise and adventures as stress management, and I’m finding a global pandemic to be very stressful.
So, what are active people to do, or not do, during a global pandemic? As a Registered Kinesiologist, I turned to science for some answers. I found this great article by Tamara Hew-Butler, Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science, and Mariane Fahlman, Professor, Kinesiology, Health and Sport Studies, at Wayne State University. Now, if you are up for some coronavirus science, j-curves, studies of sick populations during previous outbreaks and of course, studies on mice, grab a coffee, settle in and read the full article.
Or for a quicker summary may I offer:
Look for the ‘just right’ amount of exercise
- Both too much and too little exercise are bad while somewhere in the middle is just right. Research has shown exercise can influence the body’s immune system.
- Limited animal and human data cautiously suggest that exercise up to three days per week, two to three months prior, better prepares the immune system to fight a viral infection.
What if we have not exercised regularly? Will restarting an exercise routine be good or bad?
- Mild to moderate exercise may also be protective after we get infected with the flu virus, whereas a little exercise is good while no exercise – or even too much exercise – is bad.
For those who are “committed exercisers,” how much exercise is too much during a pandemic?
- It is clear, that both too much exercise and exercising while sick increases the risk of medical complications and dying.
- Over-exercise without adequate recovery may make our body more vulnerable to attack, especially by respiratory viruses. So, when it comes to immunity, studies show that more exercise is not necessarily better.
How much exercise may be just right? The authors suggest these guidelines based on just the right amount – for most people.
- Do perform mild to moderate exercise (20-45 minutes), up to three times per week.
- Strive to maintain (not gain) strength or fitness during the quarantine period.
- Do avoid physical contact with others during exercise.
- Wash and disinfect equipment after use.
- Remain engaged with teammates through social media, rather than social gatherings or contact.
- Eat and sleep well to boost your immune system.
- Remain optimistic that this too shall pass.
How much exercise may be too risky? The authors suggest the following things not to do:
- Do not exercise past exhaustion, which increases the risk of infection. An example would include marathon running, which
increases the risk of illness from 2.2 percent to 13 percent after the race.
- Do not exercise if you have any flu-like symptoms.
- Do not exercise more than five days a week.
- Do not exercise in crowded, enclosed spaces.
- Do not share drinks or eating utensils.
- Do not over drink fluids, especially when sick, to try and “flush out” the toxins or prevent dehydration. It is not true that you can “flush out” toxins.
Like most things, exercise is best in moderation. Get creative with your exercise regimen, stay safe and practice physical distancing but keep in touch with your exercise peeps. Support and challenge each other to stay active and motivated. We got this!
“Our game is not over, just temporarily suspended.”
Tamara Hew-Butler & Mariane Fahlman