A little healthy physical activity is always good for your health. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard time and time again, and today, in the midst of the pandemic, it can take on even greater value. The lockdown due to the Coronavirus has forced us to stay at home over the Christmas season, where overeating and sofa surfing often become major activities. But even these days, moderate physical activity can do well to combat laziness and improve our overall immune system response.
What have been (and still are) the most noticeable impacts of the Coronavirus on sport?
Since last March, our lifestyle has profoundly changed, starting with the closure of sport centers, gyms, swimming pools and the limitation on doing sports, even outdoors.
The state of lockdown being more or less continuous, has led to serious consequences for all those who work in the field of sport and for the athletes themselves, who in addition to being deprived of the opportunity to do sport at their desired levels, have also been deprived of the socialization aspect — especially young people and all amateur athletes.
COVID-19 is also changing the way we conduct sport at a professional level; so much so that for several months now we’ve been testing types of masks to see how much they affect athletic performance. Basketball players in Venice, Italy have been using the “Sherpa” training mask, designed by the Turin Polytechnic University specifically for contact sports, and it allows you to inhale 200 L/min of air, even under intense physical stress.
The lockdown and the associated problem of sedentariness
Let’s first try to understand what happens when you significantly increase the time you spend at home. The effects of excessive sedentariness are quite well known, but it is worth summarizing them:
- weight gain
- loss of muscle tone and volume
- reduction in physical strength
- decreased elasticity
- risk of developing or worsening chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and hypertension)
- hormonal imbalance
- decreased lung capacity
- stress and anxiety
- insomnia or other sleep disorders
All these effects are well described in a document released by the United Nations, in which it refers to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), which explains that two-to-three hours of physical activity per week are of great help for the body, but are also essential in combating anxiety and negative moods. In fact, it’s been proven that the absence of physical activity affects mental health and can aggravate the state of stress and anxiety in most people. A state of apprehension that in this historical moment is particularly high, and that could find an outlet in a healthy sporting activity, especially if performed outdoors.
Does physical activity affect the immune system?
Multiple studies have proven that sports positively affect the immune system by increasing our natural defenses against respiratory pathogens. In particular, it increases the diffusion of circulating leukocytes and lymphocytes (i.e. immune system cells) whose level remains high for a certain period of time after exercise. If physical activity is performed constantly, over a period of weeks, the value of leukocytes and lymphocytes is on average higher in subjects who do physical activity than in people who remain sedentary.
In order to stimulate the response of the immune system, one can perform either aerobic exercises such as running (using a treadmill), cycling (using an exercise bike or spinning), rowing (using a rowing machine) or high intensity anaerobic exercises such as weight training or naturally-weighted push-ups and pull-ups.
How can you train in a lockdown situation?
It takes a little imagination and creativity, especially if you don’t have an abundance of space. However, with a few pieces of equipment (even homemade), you can do a lot of different exercises.
Here are some examples:
- free body exercises such as leg push-ups, arm bends, and abdominals
- exercises for arms and shoulders with weights (purchased online or alternatively, bottles filled with water)
- exercises with rubber bands (purchased online)
- rope jumping
- pull-ups on a bar that can be attached to door frames
- stretching (if done intensively it’s also a physical activity and still important to keep the muscles toned)
- mobility exercises to combat sedentariness and the resulting disorders, especially in the back and neck
For the more fortunate who have more advanced tools:
- exercise bikes or spinning bikes
- rowing machines
Outside the home, in addition to being able to do almost all the exercises described above, you can of course run, ride a bike or just walk briskly.
For those of you who need guidance, the offer of online courses is very broad, not necessarily expensive and for various levels. Following a tutorial or a live online lesson is very stimulating and makes us overcome the moment of laziness that might otherwise lead us to sit perched in front of the TV or snooze on the sofa.
The sun always remains an important element… both for health and mood
In fact, last but not least, let’s not forget that doing physical activity outdoors provides other benefits than the sun’s rays and consequently on the production of vitamin, D of which we described in a recent article — and its positive effects on the immune system.
In summary, moderate but constant physical activity, combined with exposure to sunlight and a balanced diet, will keep us healthy during the period of restrictions imposed by this ongoing public health emergency.
This post is also available in: Italiano