I recently made an impromptu Instagram post on something that has been weighing heavily on my heart. I would like to expand on that post and perhaps even “lead by example” as to how I would love to have this one thing we are all so passionate about unite us.
It is heart breaking to see how divided the United States of America is in 2020. I have never been more scared of what the future holds than I am right now. I think what makes me the most scared is the future of our children. What will the sins of today mean for all their futures? I do not think any human could have the ability to manufacture a more perfectly divisive plan than what we are seeing today. It is almost a perfect storm of actions across our government, and the political machine of the media compounded over time that led us to where we are now. Regardless of the source of this division, the question is what can we do about it? What can heal us? Is there any way, or anything to unite us behind a common goal, with a common plan of action, through which we can all support and encourage each other?
My attempt to unite, if nothing more than only the fitness community, is a battle against the one thing that made all our lives miserable for nearly all of 2020: Coronavirus. While we aren’t the ones working on vaccines and medicine to treat and prevent it, can we unite and do our part? I think we can. I also think in doing so, our efforts will have more positive side effects outside of what we are battling.
Covid-19 attacks the respiratory system. I see the thickening of lung tissue when I CT scan patients who have it. We know that those with respiratory conditions, weakened immune systems and other co-morbidities are the people most susceptible to getting and succumbing to Covid-19. Doesn’t it then make sense to have STRONG cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune health? Can we use the one thing we all here are so passionate about, fitness and health, to promote physical fitness and training of ANY sort to be stronger in the face of this pandemic? I don’t mean the recent rash of people selling products or programs to capitalize on “boosting immune health” and I do think we need to transcend the petty bickering of the evidence-based vs bioscience conversations. Fitness, at a population level, is arguably more acutely important right now than ever. If you have ever needed a strong motivator to make you passionate about your job, or your fitness, this is it. Being fit is actually impacting some people’s survival right now, and that type of reality has the potential to unite us because it transcends differences in fitness philosophies, camps, methods, and modalities. It’s simple, and it’s important.
So, what is the strategy? We in the fitness community are probably already doing what we need to. We get out of breath, increase heart rate, and to some degree sustain it. Really, that is all it takes to boost the immune system and strengthen your ability to fight off an infectious disease like Covid-19. Now, let’s spread what we know to anyone and EVERY ONE that will listen to us.
This isn’t new information. We’ve got decades of data to show exercise helps immune function. We target the moist mucosal surfaces of our eyes, nostrils, and mouth with exercise. In saliva there are antibodies (immunoglobulin type A) that essentially provide a barrier and neutralize viruses before they enter our bodies (1). In a study that compared a sedentary control group to a group that performed aerobic exercise 3x per week for 30 minutes over 12 weeks, the exercising group had a 50% increase in levels of immunoglobulin type A in their saliva (2).
Now I know, many of you aren’t necessarily fans of aerobic exercise, and many of you are stuck at home. It is time to get creative. If our collective minds can come up with hundreds of ways to progress in our bodybuilding efforts with 1 or 2 bands, I know we can figure out thousands of different individualized workouts for any population to get heart rate and respirations elevated for 30 minutes 3x per week. I will use myself as an example, my goal is improving in powerlifting and to some degree bodybuilding. I built a couple of sessions into my weight training to accomplish both while also boosting my defenses. I am no spring chicken at the age of 48, so while I consider myself to be strong enough to fight off Covid-19, if I get it, there is no guarantee. Meaning, I might as well do what I can to improve my odds of coming away unscathed if I am infected. I almost always program a low effort day, but with heavy weight for myself and many of my athletes. On these days, I use 80% of a 1-3rm, but I only do 2 or 3 reps, think of this like technique work for powerlifting. As of late, to get both aerobic benefits while working on my powerlifting skill AND my bodybuilding, I have been doing these EMOM (every minute on the minute) for about 15 minutes in combination with an accessory movement. In practice, what this looks like for me is a 300lb squat for 2-3 reps, EMOM for 8 sets, alternating with an upper body movement, like a heavy row, in a similar fashion. I guess we can call it, “bodybuilder cardio.” But you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or powerlifter to do this, and it or something similar can work for anyone. You do not even have to include lifting weights. Simply, the goal is boosting the immune function of our mucosal membranes and staying within the confines of life and while most importantly, providing enjoyability. Heck, a vigorous game of ping pong played for 20 minutes with some urgency and a large supply of balls could do the trick!
That said, a word of caution about making the workouts too intense. In this case, harder and more intense is not necessarily better. Over strenuous exercise, I would imagine like those elite cross fit athletes perform, has been shown to temporarily drop immunoglobulin type 1 levels after only 1 session (3). So, think about how you’d apply this advice. If someone is going to be in situations where they might contract COVID, absolutely keep it moderate. But if you’re on lockdown right now, or being a strict adherent to social distancing protocols, you could occasionally allow some harder sessions in times where you won’t be in contact with others. For me, I try to keep it moderate, and the above workout seems to be the right balance of effectiveness and effort. The first 3 circuits are easy, the next 3 are difficult, and the last 1 or 2 are hard. I would not rate the last sets as “over strenuous exercise” though. Likewise, a vigorous game of ping pong would probably work well for the untrained as long as there was a little urgency to the game.
It is just my opinion, but Coronavirus is not going away. A vaccine is Lord knows how far off, but we are probably all going to get it at some point. The death rate from infection of Coronavirus has been proven to be exceptionally low (5), but that is likely based on how healthy you are. So, let us come together as a community and work to simply beat it ourselves.
1. Otsuko T. et all, Nutr. J 2011 Sept. 910:91
2. Klentrou P. et all, Eur J Appl Physiology 2002:87(2):153-8
3. Neville V. et all, Med Sci Sports Exer 2008:40(7):1228-364. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html