A study confirms the positive effects of exercise on the immune system and mental health, essential to face a second wave of Covid-19
Alfonso Jiménez, professor of the degree in Sciences of Physical Activity and Sport at the URJC, together with Dr. Xian Mayo, researcher at the URJC Center for Sports Studies, and Robert J. Copeland, professor of Physical Activity and Health at “Sheffield Hallam University”, they have conducted research on the positive impact of exercise on the immune system. In the extraordinary situation the world is in right now, staying healthy and maximizing any prevention measures against Covid-19 becomes much more important.
However, this mentality does not have to remain at the individual level, but should be extrapolated to the entire society to resist the second wave of Covid-19 with the least number of infections. “If we promote this regular active behavior among the population as a whole, we can significantly reinforce the capacity to face epidemiological challenges such as the one we are now suffering as a result of Covid-19,” says Jiménez.
In this way, the regular practice of some physical activity, in addition to helping both physical and mental health, contributes to strengthening the immune system and reducing the risk of contracting a viral disease. In this sense, playing sports becomes a very useful tool when creating a barrier against Covid-19. In fact, the risk of contagion when exercising outdoors or in a gym is much lower compared to that when leading a sedentary life.
Recent studies on which this research is supported estimate that, if current trends in population growth and aging, and the obesity rate are maintained, by 2030 about 60% of the adult population worldwide would be overweight or obese. Furthermore, obesity is a major risk factor for viral diseases, including Covid-19. “Epidemiological data indicate that physically active people are less likely to report symptoms of upper respiratory disease and there is evidence that exercise can protect the host from many types of viral infections. Therefore, it is logical to think that inactive individuals would present greater risks of suffering from COVID-19. In fact, research is showing that in these people the virus is more aggressive and presents more clinical complications, ”says Jiménez. So, lack of physical activity, aging and obesity contribute to a decrease in defenses and to dysfunction of the immune system, increasing the risk of contagion exponentially.
In this context, the benefits of sport have already been corroborated by more research and it has been proven that they are more effective in the adult population. On the one hand, evidence has been found that suggests that regular and structured exercise can delay the aging of the immune system. On the other hand, cardiorespiratory exercise at moderate intensity notably improves immune responses during vaccination and reduces low-grade inflammation. “In the long term, regular physical activity and frequent exercise increase aspects of immune competence throughout life. Furthermore, preliminary evidence suggests that physical activity and regular structured exercise could even limit or delay immune aging, ”adds Jiménez.
Ultimately, exercising regularly becomes more important than ever in today’s world. “Our work had the main objective of drawing attention to the preventive value of an active lifestyle in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, but also to act on the other great pandemic that we suffer, which is physical inactivity”, argues Jiménez. The results of the study are summarized in six keys: by practicing sports you reduce the risk of developing obesity and, therefore, systematic inflammation. This leads to improving the immune system and the effectiveness of vaccines, as well as reducing the duration of symptoms when contracting a disease, as well as the risk of catching it. “The most positive result is therefore interest in the media and among public opinion,” Jiménez concludes.