As the UK prepares to stay home from work, self isolate and restrict large social gatherings, the message on how to stay fit and healthy seems a little blurry. It's hard to focus on exercise and protecting your immune system while everything around us is a little chaotic. However, let me focus you with some information that is going to help protect your mental health, protect your body and protect your immune system.
All I'm offering you is a few key pointers on how I see keeping fit and protecting your immunity will help you over the coming weeks or months. Hopefully, it will reassure you a little and help you feel a bit better about this whole situation - no pressure!
Avoid prolonged training sessions (2 hrs+) and avoid excessive periods of high intensity training (despite what your training plan might say!). Long sessions or too much intensity can negatively affect your immunity - I've seen loads of long and super intense home workout sessions being posted on social media - be sensible. And remember, lots of experts will come out the woodwork now - NOT EVERY EXPERT IS REALLY AN EXPERT!
If you have to do a long (2 hrs+)/moderate or high intensity workout, ensure you eat or drink carbohydrates before and during exercise to limit the impact on your immune system. Normally, 40 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise is ideal.
Make sure to drink plenty. Whether washing the virus into your stomach to be destroyed by gastric juices is true, exercising while dehydrated increases stress hormone levels. Stress in a general sense is also not good for the immune system. Message here? Drink plenty and keep stress to a minimum (where possible!).
If you are used to training at a gym or indoors, exercising outdoors might be a shock. If the weather is cold/windy/wet, make sure to dress appropriately for the elements. Lots of layers, hats and a buff to protect your mouth and throat! Avoid getting cold and wet during and after exercise.
Get at least 7-8 hours sleep per night. You might be able to stay up all night watching Netflix now but a lack of sleep can affect the health of your lungs and therefore potentially risk the occurrence of respiratory illness. Now, while being tired does not directly affect exercise or the immune system, picking up other issues can. I learnt this the hard way (twice!) from having hypothermia and pneumonia (hence not training in rain or fog when its cold anymore!).
My clients will hate the fact that I still want them to track their macro nutrient intakes but this is super important at the moment. Firstly you need to ensure you are getting enough calories and enough protein, carbohydrate and fats to support a healthy immune system.
Secondly, as activity through the day reduces and you exercise less, you need to make sure you are not eating more calories than you're expending. As James Smith would say, you have to ensure that you maintain a calorie deficit. This should ensure your body weight doesn't start increasing. Gaining weight, losing fitness and not watching those calories is a sure fire way to lower your immunity. Not sure how to track your food? Scan your food bar codes using a calorie tracker such as My Fitness Pal.
Building on from the last point, ensuring you get enough key vitamins and nutrients in your diet is also important. If you've restricted calorie intake to maintain a deficit of, lets say 1500 calories, but you eat that 1500 calories in Dairy Milk for 14 days - what do you think is likely to be the outcome when you go back to training? If I coach or train you, you can guarantee you're getting you butt kicked!
Vitamin D aids immunity, and if like me currently indoors in Norwich, natural sunlight is very limited, a vitamin D supplement may help. Other vitamins such as Vitamin B, Vitamin C and Vitamin E can also help (cue the shelf clearances in Holland and Barrett!).
Of course, the danger when suggesting people watch their calorie intake, is that people might immediately go the opposite way and start a plan of rapid weight loss. If you are using the lock-down to limit your food intake, make sure protein consumption remains high (1-1.5 grams per kilo of body weight) as you can be prone to infection while eating less to lose weight. As mentioned before, because food choices and quality may be limited (due to people buying everything), supplementing with a multivitamin is probably a good idea.
If vitamin and mineral supplements don't do it for you, try to eat different fruits and vegetables as often as you can. Canned options count if you manage to get your hands on any. Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants which fight off colds (which suppress your immune system). What if you get ill? Firstly you should be self isolating so just look after yourself. When you start to feel better do some very light, basic exercises in the house or garden for the first few days. Then progress to walking, nice and easy, in the fresh air. Once you are better then you can get back to training.
We don't want to give up on our training goals completely but remember, everyone will lose some specific fitness and strength. Your aim should be to maintain as much fitness and strength as you can for as long as possible whilst being safe and not putting yourself and others at risk.
In the words of Jerry Springer - "Look after yourself, and each other"
Rob is a personal trainer, sports therapist, running and triathlon coach with over 16 years experience in the health & fitness industry. Want training advice or help? Email him -firstname.lastname@example.org