By Matt Evans
Exercise is a vital component in a healthy lifestyle. It keeps us fit and active well into old age, keeps us feeling happy and makes our muscles stronger.
However, there's an added benefit to exercise few of us really think about. In addition to a healthy diet, exercise is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy immune system, which is especially of import in the current climate.
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Healthcare professionals across the Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW), NHS Wales’ body for healthcare training and development, and scientists at the University of Birmingham have created the Motivate2Move campaign, designed to educate the public on how exercise can help improve our resistance to cold and flu.
Considering we're about to enter flu season in the midst of a global health crisis, there's never been a better time to lace up your trainers.
Dr Sam Lucas at the University of Birmingham said: “We could be at the start of a series of long-term changes to our way of life, so it makes absolute sense to build in exercise routines and habits that will keep us healthier overall, and potentially reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms if we are infected.”
Research published on HEIW's website tells us exactly how this works. The researchers found increases in "cardiac output, blood flow and the release of stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline) during exercise result in immune cells with high functional capacity".
Essentially, as you exercise, your heart works faster, pumping blood around your body, and the chemical known as adrenaline is released. This is said to "activate" your immune system, priming it to patrol the body and do its job effectively.
At the same time, exercising also has an anti-inflammatory effect on your body, which helps induce an array of benefits to your immune system.
Over the long term, exercise has also been found to reduce the risk of an infectious cold or flu episode. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to get sick: and according to Dr Lucas, this could extend to coronavirus symptoms.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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