Scientists from the University of Bath have emphasised the need to exercise regularly even for those people in self-isolation, in order to boost the immune system. The study was published in Exercise Immunology Review, an international journal. Scientists from the University of Arizona, the University of Newcastle, Australia, the Justus-Liebig University in Germany, the University of Canberra and the Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, also contributed to the study.
Many previous studies have been carried out in relation to the connection between exercise and the immune system. These studies have suggested that exercise can have a beneficial impact on those people who are older adults or have chronic disease, however athletes can lose a lot of training days to illness. This has led scientists to conclude that extremely strenuous exercise such as military training exercises, could suppress the immune system and increase the risk of an infection during the hours following.
The Bath professors had challenged this idea in a 2018 study, arguing that scientific evidence did not agree with this theory and suggesting because there was not enough evidence, that scientists should support the idea that exercise was beneficial for immunity in athletes.
This study aimed to collect the opposing arguments and examine them more closely. They examined whether athletes could catch upper respiratory tract illness more easily than the general public, whether immunity could be altered by the amount of exercise done, how useful biomarkers could be to help monitor the health of people taking part in strenuous exercise and how much scientific evidence could be found for and against each point of view. The scientists agreed that there could be a number of causes for low immunity and the study aimed to re-open the debate.
The study took the form of a debate article, asking groups of scientists to provide a brief narrative supporting their belief or otherwise that exercise does or does not affect immunity. The authors were divided into two groups, providing both a yes and a no case. They were also asked to rebut the original narratives. The team that edited the study highlighted the points of agreement as well as the issues that remained unresolved so that further study can pick up those points.
The scientists agreed that exercise can support the immune system, helping it to deal with infections and that regular exercise can slow immune system changes which could help reduce the risk of illness. Although not all the scientists agreed that extreme exercise could affect immunity adversely, they did agree that there were most likely other factors involved, including mental health, lack of quality sleep, poor diet, contracting infection through travel or through other social events, particularly where large groups of people gather. They recommended topics that would need further study on the subject.
At a time when most people are confined to home, this study emphasises the importance of making sure that exercise is carried out in whatever form possible to that people stay fit and healthy. They should continue to follow Government guidelines regarding social distancing and maintaining good hygiene practices.
Simpson, R.J., Campbell, J.P., et al., Can Exercise Affect Immune Function to Increase Susceptibility to Infection? Exercise Immunology Review, 2020