Why you should be working up a sweat during lockdown

Posted on April 24, 2020

*Any guidance provided in this article is intended for individuals who have not been diagnosed with and/or do not present with any contraindications to exercise and other special populations such as those with diabetes/obesity, etc. and/or symptoms of an acute respiratory illness. Please consult your physician if you present with any of these conditions.

For some people, working out during this time of the COVID-19 lockdown is a no-brainer, but for others, these questions may have arisen: is exercise really important right now; doesn’t physical activity suppress the immune system; I’ve never exercised before – should I start now; how do I exercise without any equipment? Well, let’s break it down.

Lockdown is a great opportunity for you to become physically active, especially if you don’t usually have enough time to exercise. The benefits of working out have been well documented: evidence shows that regular physical activity contributes to the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases.

Many of us may also be experiencing stress and anxiety associated with being confined to our homes. One way to deal with this stress is to exercise! Regular physical activity results in the release of hormones that cause positive mood changes.

Exercise is also a way for the whole family to spend time together in a healthy, positive way. So how much exercise is too much; how does it affect immunity; and how can we maximise the benefits of exercise during this time? 

Exercise and the immune system
Most researchers agree that regular, moderate exercise strengthens the immune system. At the same time, too much high-intensity exercise may suppress the immune system, leading to an “open window” of increased risk of infection in the hours directly following a workout. 

In 2018, Dr John Campbell and Dr James Turner of the University of Bath in England challenged the idea that too much exercise influenced the risk of infection, either positively or negatively. They concluded that infections are more likely linked to other factors such as insufficient sleep, air travel, inadequate diet, overtraining and, perhaps more importantly in the current climate, exposure to pathogens at social gatherings. While Dr Campbell and Dr Turner’s research focused on athletes and well-trained individuals, many of their conclusions apply to recreational athletes.  

Where to start?
General guidelines recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity (30 minutes a day), or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Fitter individuals will need to increase their exercise intensity to improve their fitness levels. Those who are unaccustomed to physical activity will significantly improve their fitness levels with low-intensity training. Start slowly with a thought-out plan to minimise the risk of injury. You could contact your closest sports institute to request personalised guidance.

Tips to keep active
Get moving: Consistent sedentary behaviour is detrimental to our health, and it is important that we keep moving to avoid prolonged bouts of inactivity. If there are tasks you can do while standing or walking rather than sitting, then do so.

Regular bouts of exercise: If you are unrestricted by a health condition, aim for the prescribed 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. 

You don’t need a gym: We can use the spaces in our homes, including the stairs, garden, driveway and balcony for many exercises.The most practical workout would be a bodyweight strength programme, which can be interspersed with cardiovascular exercises such as running step-ups, tuck jumps, skipping, jumping jacks and burpees to create a more high-intensity interval session. You can use bottles or bags filled with sand as weights, and broomsticks as bars (for overhead squats). If you have a driveway, do repeated sprints. 

Many exercise institutes and professionals also offer free live online sessions for Pilates, yoga and strength classes.

Scientifically periodic and planned training programmes
The benefits of any exercise programme are physiologically built during rest periods. We require a stimulus or training period (strength, running, etc.), and a recovery period to reap the full benefits of exercise. Our weekly routines must include one to three days of rest/recovery, depending on how much exercise we have done. A qualified sports scientist or biokineticist can assist you with a periodised plan and session plan to avoid any risk of injury and reap the rewards of a reliable programme. 

Recovery is key
Post-exercise recovery is vital to ensure optimal adaptation. Given the increased stress of lockdown, recovery is even more important. Also ensure your post-training nutrition is on point by eating a balanced diet and avoiding excessive alcohol intake.

Don’t forget about nutrition
We need to complement our exercise routine with a healthy nutrition plan. To deal with stress during lockdown, we are often tempted by unhealthy eating and snacking, which makes it even more imperative that we follow an exercise routine. Ideally, though, we shouldn’t make up for poor eating habits with an exercise regime, but rather view healthy eating and exercise as complementary. 

Ensure that you are getting at least eight hours of sleep. Practise good sleep hygiene by avoiding excessive blue light from electronic devices an hour before bedtime to ensure the correct the hormonal levels of melatonin which regulates sleep. Sleep helps us to recover properly from exercise and to cope with other stresses. 


- Author Shona Hendricks

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences