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Exercise and viruses: When to work out and when to stay home

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Raise your hand if you are tired of hearing about the coronavirus.

With so much focus lately on the flu and the coronavirus, I started wondering what effect exercise might have on our immune system, if any.

There are many studies relating to this subject, pro and con. Like most things, we all must make our own decisions by delving into the subject a little deeper.

A view held for years is the “open window” theory, which basically holds that after a moderate to intense bout of exercise the immune system is suppressed, and therefore we are more likely to get sick — even though the open window of time may only be for a few hours. But there are plenty of studies that negate that theory.

Everyone knows that regular exercise has so many benefits, especially as we age. It reduces many chronic diseases associated with older age, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. And it turns out frequent exercise may help boost the immune system.

In an article published on PubMed in 2018, “Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression,” the authors reported that, over a lifetime, exercise more likely improves and enhances your immune system. They determined there were just as many studies supporting the theory that exercise is good for the immune system as there were for exercise being bad for the immune system.

Another study in the “exercise is awesome” category is from 2008, in which researchers from Appalachian State and the University of North Carolina studied more than 1,000 healthy subjects aged 18-85 over a 12-week period. The fittest 25 percent of subjects, who exercised five-plus days a week, had 43 percent fewer upper respiratory issues than the bottom 25 percent of subjects, who only exercised one day a week.

When the top group did get sick, their symptoms were less severe. Researchers discovered that, in general, the more fit you are, the more able you are to fight off infections and disease. This just seems like common sense to me.

So it’s important to keep as active as you can and, of course, practice good hygiene. Weren’t we all doing this already?

  We all know that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle foundation, along with a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, getting the proper amount of sleep, and drinking plenty of water.

Exercise certainly promotes better circulation, which is very important as we age. Our immune system needs all the help it can get to ward off disease and illness.

But if you are feeling sick, it may be more of a benefit for you to sleep in one or two days rather than hitting the gym. It’s OK to take time off when you are sick — especially if you exercise in a group. They would appreciate you staying home.

We all take hits to our immune system, particularly this time of year. But try to keep your routines up as much as possible. Your body will tell you if you need to skip a workout. Common sense is a huge player in this.

Keep your health foundation and your immune system strong by exercising 3-5 days a week, eating lots of healthy, plant-based foods, sleeping 6-8 hours a night and staying hydrated. Oh, and wash your hands.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer. She is fitness director for the YMCA of Calhoun County. Her “fitness over 50” column appears the third Sunday of each month.