Exercise more vital than ever so ‘don’t let social distancing shut it down’

Published:27 March 2020

Sasha Job says regular exercise is vital to our physical and mental health, immunity levels and sleep patterns during times of great stress, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regular exercise is vital to our physical and mental health, immunity levels and sleep patterns during times of great stress, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

But before lacing up and running out the door to get active, we firstly need to consider how we exercise to ensure adherence with government recommendations.

CQUniversity physiotherapy and exercise science specialist Sasha Job (who runs a business called Inspiring Habits) has some suggestions:

* Avoid gyms and crowded spaces.

* If you are not exercising alone, avoid exercising in enclosed areas.

* Adhere to the government’s recommendations on hygiene and social isolation – the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 website also has some excellent resources.

* If exercising with others (not currently allowed for groups of more than 10 people), pay particular attention to sport-specific hygiene and distancing (e.g. avoid sharing towels or water bottles, don’t share equipment, leave the high-5 hanging, exercise at least 1.5m apart).

Ms Job says we also need to consider how we exercise so that we actually achieve the potential benefits of exercise.

“Refer to the national physical activity guidelines for specific recommendations based on your age and exercising safely,” she says.

“Exercise is also a potentially very important means for keeping our immune system healthy. This is another important consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Regular bouts of moderate intensity exercise appear to reduce general risk of infection. There is strong evidence to support this.

“Moderate exercise is associated with increased immunosurveillance (i.e. better host defence). Benefits are transient, so regular exercise is important. Greater resistance to pathogens is demonstrated in individuals with moderately active lifestyles.

“Heavy training programs or prolonged bouts of exercise appear to have ‘open windows’ where the immune system is temporarily reduced.

“However, it is important to point out that evidence is not conclusive regarding the significance of this due to limitations in how and when we can measure immunity.

“Our immune system is very adaptable, and has considerable redundancy, so just because there is a change in isolated circulating immune cells, it does not specifically mean infection risk is higher.

“From an immune perspective, if exercising at higher intensities, or increased frequency, ensure exercise doesn’t extend past exhaustion.

“Also ensure that recovery periods are sufficient so that ‘open windows’ don’t combine (i.e. allowing the immune system to recover before the next bout of exercise prevents progressive accumulation of transient periods of reduced immune system function). And avoid exercise if you have flu-like symptoms.

“So, what am I trying to say? Be active, but responsibly so.

“Find your ‘why’ and understand your body’s response to exercise so that you participate in regular physical activity and improve your overall health – physically and mentally.”