Hamline News

Stay Home Order and Pandemic are Good Reasons to Exercise

Lisa Ferguson-Stegall, a professor who also directs the Integrative Physiology Lab, was joined by her colleague Associate Professor Jen Robb, who weighed in from sabbatical, to talk about the possibilities and benefits for exercise during Governor Walz’s order to stay home as Minnesota attempts to “flatten the curve” on COVID-19 infections.

Immune system effects

Physical activity between online classes can improve mental and physical fitness, overall wellbeing, and immune system functioning, which is an important benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The activity does not need to be an Olympic workout to garner immunological effects.

“The bottom line is that your immune system gets a boost from something as simple as a 30-minute walk at a steady, brisk pace,” said Stegall

Getting the blood moving throughout the body helps to heighten the immune cells’ immunosurveillance and increase the ability to find and destroy pathogens more readily.

However, “The immunological effect is temporary, occurring in response to a single bout of exercise, so it’s good to do something like this every day or most days of the week,” said Stegall.

On the other hand, those who work out strenuously, such as Piper scholar-athletes have to be careful not to go too hard. 

“If you are training for two or more hours at a highly intense effort like interval training or race effort, your immune system takes a temporary hit, and is not as effective at its activity and surveillance,” said Stegall

The diminished immune response can last for six hours or more post-exercise. It is okay to train hard but it is important to maintain social distancing for those hours afterward. Scholar athletes can mitigate this immunosuppression through carbohydrate intake during and after the exercise. A sports beverage that contains carbohydrates and electrolytes is a better option than water to assist the immune response both during and after a heavy workout.  

Improved cognition and brain health

Exercise also helps brain function which is an important benefit while learning online. A study from the University of British Columbia found that regular moderate to heavy aerobic exercise may increase the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Note that resistance training, balance and muscle toning appeared to not have the same effect on the hippocampus. Any type of exercise, however, will stimulate production and release of chemicals in the brain that affects the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels and cells in the brain.

Better mental health

Exercise is excellent for mental health as well. Both aerobic and resistance exercise has been shown time and time again to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Another benefit of cardiovascular exercise such as running is the release of powerful endorphins that make people literally feel better, both physically and emotionally.

Maintaining fitness

According to research, it takes about two weeks for a previously active person to start losing strength and cardiorespiratory endurance. 

“I wouldn’t Netflix marathon for too long, otherwise when you go back to exercise, you’ll absolutely notice a difference,” said Robb.

Weightlifting will help to maintain muscle mass. The key is to exercise muscle groups to fatigue and slow down your movements.

“You may not have access to a squat rack, but variations of squats, lunges, and other movements, when performed to failure, will absolutely help you minimize any loss,” said Robb.

Those who previously exercised will be able to regain fitness faster. The key is to be patient.

Tips for home exercise

When exercising at home the most important thing to keep in mind is safety. If a person is alone or social distancing, it’s important that they do not push to levels that might cause dizziness, light-headedness, extreme fatigue, over-heating, or injury. A few guidelines from Robb:
 - Take time to fully warm-up (5-10 min of light exercise)
 - Workout in a cool location
 - Take breaks when needed, and drink plenty of water.
 - Monitor your heart rate.

“A great rule of thumb is the Talking Test – if you can speak in full sentences with ease, you can increase the intensity,” said Robb. “If you can barely speak 2-3 words at a time, you should take a break!”

Pick something enjoyable 

Both Stegall and Robb emphasized that any exercise should be fun because it is difficult to motivate to workout at home. For example, if burpees are a struggle, or hated, they aren’t going to be a good option. Similarly, running can be a challenge for people.

“It’s important to do something you enjoy, that way you’re less likely to talk yourself out of it or end the exercise early,” said Stegall.

Robb suggests working out with a roommate, family member, or friend (even over video chat!), following free online exercise videos, using guided free apps, or just being active around your home and neighborhood. Playing with your kids, walking your dog, or cleaning your home are all options. Also, it is fine to space exercise throughout the day.

“Do 10-15 min of exercise 3-4 times throughout the day. This will give you the same cognitive and health benefits as performing a 30-45 min workout,” said Robb. 

The bottom line is that there is no need to work up a sweat to be healthy and active.

“Just move,” said Robb.

A Hamline resource

Hamline Recreation is putting together a schedule for live streaming yoga, group fitness routines, and short stories of different exercises and stretches posted on their Instagram account (@HURecreation).

Starting on April 1, Hamline yoga instructors will live stream on Instagram (@HURecreation) 4 days a week, Monday through Thursday at 4 pm. In addition, group fitness classes are in the works and short videos of exercises will be posted to Hamline Rec Instagram (@HURecreation) stories approximately once per day.

Look for more information via email, Inside Hamline, and on social media.

Written by staff