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During the Coronavirus outbreak, is exercise good or bad for you? Yes

exercise during coronavirusYou’ve probably read about how good moderate exercise can be for the emotional and cognitive state of seniors sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what about your immunological state?

According to two professors of sports science, the answer depends on three things: What kind of exercise, how long you do it, and how often. “Both too much and too little are bad,” they write, “while somewhere in the middle is just right.”

There are two kinds of exercise immunity, they note. One is a systemic (i.e., whole-body) cellular response to infection, and the other, mucosal, response affects the respiratory tract’s mucous lining – the very part of your body that the COVID-19 virus attacks.


If you were to plot the infection risk and illness severity against the amount of exercise of time, it would show a J-or U-shaped curve. After a moderate amount of exercise over time reduces risk and severity to their minimums, both risks start to increase again – often to greater risk and severity than there’d have been with no exercise at all.

A 1998 Hong Kong study of H1N1 deaths during the Hong Kong flu epidemic compared never/seldom (once a month or never), low/moderate (1-3 times a week) and frequent (4 time a week or more) exercisers. The report noted that frequent exercisers’ risks were just as high as seldom/never exercisers’. It concluded that there was “a U-shaped pattern.” As exercise becomes more frequent, mortality risk initially decreases, but after that point the risk goes way up again.

“The United States recommendation of ‘all or most days of the week’ of doing 30 minutes’ exercise may be more than is appropriate, particularly for older people,” the researchers concluded.

Studies on college athletes also showed that more exercise isn’t better; it lowers the levels of an antibody protein called secretory immunoglobulin A, which reduces upper respiratory infections.

So how much exercise is enough?

  • 20-45 minutes’ moderate exercise.
  • Up to 3 times a week.
  • With the goal of maintaining but not increasing strength and fitness.

And how much is too much?

  • Exercising past exhaustion. Marathon running, for example, heightens illness risk from 2.2 to 13 percent after the race.
  • Exercising more than 5 days a week.
  • Exercising if you have any flu-like symptoms. And any form of team or contact sports.

And be sure to wash and disinfect your equipment after you’re finished.

If you have any questions about coping with the Coronavirus outbreak, or your retirement years in general, please feel free to call or email us. Just as we always have, we’ll be happy to give you honest, objective answers.