The message of home exercise for those over 70, immunocompromised (“high risk”), and healthy populations to improve the immune system during social isolation can be very confusing, since some say exercise can actually stress your immune system and make you less prepared to fight off infections. In this blog we address this discrepancy, how you can exercise to improve your immune system and how you can minimise potential negative impacts arising from exercise.


It is important to note that all advice is relative to your current exercise capacity. If a “long, aerobic endurance session” is mentioned this could mean a 20km run or a 10 minute walk and anywhere in between, depending on your current fitness level.

Acute response to exercise


The acute response to exercise, or how your body will respond for the first 24-48 hours after an exercise bout, largely depends on the mode and intensity of exercise you undertake.


For endurance training, long and relatively intense bouts of exercise can lead to a temporary decline in the capacity of the immune system. For endurance training that is shorter duration or longer in duration and less intense, your ability to fight infection will be largely uncompromised.


When it comes to resistance training, continuing your current program will not cause any significant effects on your immune system. That being said, if you are concerned about your risk of infection you should not adopt a new, significantly more intense regimen.


There are some dramatic positives to exercising with regard to preventing and fighting illness, including an increase in blood flow (antibodies and white blood cells flow to tissues and may detect infection more rapidly), an elevation in body temperature (creating a difficult environment for viruses to thrive) and the heavier breathing may help with removing bacteria from the lungs and airways.


Chronic response to exercise


It is well understood that those with a higher level of fitness are better suited to minimise both the risk of contracting and severity of illnesses. Adhering to a regular fitness routine over a long period of time decreases inflammatory markers in the body, lower stress hormone levels and significantly decrease the risk of co-morbidities that create the “vulnerable” or “high risk” population.


When it comes to acute exercise, only a very small unusually intense exercise session may lead to an immunosuppressive effect. Even this fact is up for debate and there is research coming out to indicate even the most intense exercise will not dampen the immune system, but nevertheless the scientific consensus is that continuing your current exercise program or beginning a new, appropriate routine will actually improve your ability to fight infection.


As always, this advice is very general in nature and (especially if you have a chronic condition or you are immunocompromised) you should seek individual guidance from an accredited exercise physiologist.


           To get your exercise routine started, modified or for any general advice, contact Longevity: 1300 964 002