As the world goes into lockdown over the Covid-19 pandemic it’s worth remembering that exercising regularly, in combination with a healthy lifestyle, remains one of our best defenses against most illnesses.
The remarkable qualities of exercise – and physical activity in general – have been known for some time, to the extent that medical experts have called for it to be prescribed by doctors in much the same way they dispense conventional drugs and other treatments.
And while nobody is saying that exercise alone can replace prescription meds in a genuine medical situation, as a way of supporting your immune system to better fight disease in the first place, it has few equals.
As well as making you fitter and stronger, then, here are three ways exercise will benefit your overall health and wellbeing:
SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
It’s simple – being physically fit increases your immunological fitness too. Basically, exercise increases blood flow and mobilizes white blood cells, one of the main defenses against harmful microbes. At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week is recommended, but anything is better than nothing. One study found that just 30 minutes of brisk walking increased the circulation of natural killer cells and other immune system warriors in the blood.
REDUCE YOUR RISK OF CHRONIC ILLNESS
The American College of Sports Medicine’s “Exercise Is Medicine” project has documented the myriad health benefits of exercise, including lowering the incidence of various cancers, reducing the risk of excessive weight gain (with its associated health problems, including diabetes), supporting musculoskeletal health, and improving cardiovascular health (including lower risk of hypertension and stroke). All of these contributed to an overall lower risk of all causes of mortality in people who exercise. Another large analysis reported in 2009 found these same benefits were experienced by people already suffering from chronic conditions.
IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Stress hormones compromise immune function but exercise, including yoga, is very good at combatting stress. Numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity is associated with better mental health, including a reduced risk or incidence of dementia, reduced feelings of anxiety and depression, improved cognitive function, improved quality of life, improved sleep. Again, the latest neuroscience shows that even moderate physical activity can have major benefits.
No, a workout cannot substitute for genuine medical care in a health emergency. But a 2013 comparison study found that exercise was as good if not better than drug interventions at combatting a number of chronic illnesses.
In short, exercise is really good for you, so keep it up.