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Jake Steinfeld: Fitness is a vaccine
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Jake Steinfeld: Fitness is a vaccine

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With America reopening in phases to protect against COVID-19, one thought on all of our minds is: What can we do to protect ourselves?

We know for a fact that underlying health problems have exacerbated the toll the virus has taken on our at-risk citizens. Doctors around the nation have reported that a significant number of patients inflicted with the coronavirus who develop complications are overweight or obese and that compromised immune systems are negatively affected by this virus.

As our conversations focus on reopening, we are also talking about a second wave of the pandemic and what we should be doing to prepare for it. As we start taking more and more risks, it seems the best defense we have is our own immunity.

So how can we strengthen our immune system? How can we build it up? What actions can we take now to help us prepare for the future? The answer is quite simple: exercise and physical activity.

I’ve been advocating the benefits of physical activity for more than 40 years, especially as a way to combat obesity. This preventable disease is one of the most prolific killers in our country. Obesity is a contributing factor to 300,000 deaths annually in the U.S., and when we add in complications from the coronavirus this year, those numbers will be amplified. But in this unprecedented time, exercise is needed now more than ever.

Study after study has shown that being physically active can relieve anxiety, which is imperative during a pandemic, and it can actually boost your immune system. As we start loosening up stay-at-home restrictions, having a strong immune system is more important than ever. While physical activity won’t stop someone from contracting the coronavirus, it does play a role in keeping you healthy. Research shows that those who participate in regular mild to moderate exercise have a lower incidence of infection compared to those who live a more sedentary lifestyle.

Furthermore, exercise can help stave off the risk of a variety of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease that breakdown the immune system and make you more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.

Just a couple of months ago, researchers in England released their findings on exercise and the immune system. They determined that “in the short term, exercise can help the immune system find and deal with pathogens, and in the long term, regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with ageing, therefore reducing the risk of infections.”

As society opens back up, we should be sure to follow the rules set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continue to wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Keep your distance from people by staying at least 6 feet apart. Wear a face mask if visiting a grocery store, etc. These are all proven preventative measures that will help prevent illness.

But I urge everyone to add exercise to your daily regiment as an additional safety precaution. Exercise serves as a “vaccine” of sorts by strengthening your immune system to help fight infection. There is no better time than now to get fit and help yourself stay healthy. It’s great for your body, it increases energy, boosts self-esteem and improves overall confidence.

Jake Steinfeld serves as chairman of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, whose sole mission is to provide DON’T QUIT! Fitness Centers to elementary and middle schools throughout the United States. To learn more about the DON’T QUIT! campaign, visit www.natgovfit.org.

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