It is well known that sport is good for our mental and physical health and increases our life span. However, it seems that intense physical exercise is not advisable in some circumstances, particularly in case of risk of infection.
Sport and infection: what are the risks?
Sports cardiologist Dr. med Laurent Chevalier emphasizes that the practice of sports during a viral infection and shortly after recovery do not go well together. Clearly in case of fever and other symptoms, but also during eight days following recovery. What are the risks of long or intensive sports practice during these times? The virus can spread to the heart muscle, which can cause dangerous irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).
Today, according to Dr. Chevalier, the large number of symptom-free coronavirus carriers can lead to an increased risk of cardiac incidents in case of strenuous physical activity. He therefore recommends a very moderate sports practice of a duration of less than one hour.
Sports and the risk of spreading the virus
Many doctors remind us that this virus is transmitted by droplets. While breathing we expel secretions from the mouth and nose and these secretions stay a while in the air and then land on surrounding objects, the same also happens with perspiration. Doing sports outside in a group is therefore risky, for ones’ own risk of being contaminated as well as for the risk of contaminating others. These doctors recommend exercising moderately at home, inside, and at a distance from anyone else. To run outside alone does not increase the risk of transmission, however, it is advised to avoid all possible causes of accident at this time, due to overburdened hospitals and doctors.
Sport and the immune system
Overall, regular exercising is necessary for our health and is specifically beneficial to the proper function of our immune system. A total sedentary lifestyle is not a good option. Dr. med Boris Gojanovic, sports doctor, sums up the scientific data of the past years :
Moderate physical activity (<75% heart rate maximum = moderately out of breath) of a duration of less than one hour several times a week helps to improve the activation of our immune system, as well as of our anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory functions. These beneficial effects might help reduce the incidence and severity of infections.
However, intense physical activity and, or a too lengthy exercise routine risks to disrupt our metabolism and our immune defence. Furthermore, studies have underlined that the risk of infection increases after lengthy condition training or very intense physical workouts.
Nieman DC et Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2019;8:201-217.
Williams PT. Dose-response relationship between exercise and respiratory disease mortality. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46:711–7.
To sum it up, carry on working out moderately and regularly, alone or at a distance from others. It is not advisable to try to break world records during this Covid-19 crisis.
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Swiss Alp Health Science 31.03.2020