This Kind of Workout Makes Your Risk of Catching COVID Soar, Experts Say

It may also increase your risk of dying from coronavirus, according to doctors.

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It's no secret that exercise is beneficial to your health, whether it's helping you shed some extra pounds or improving your mental well-being. However, new guidance from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests that certain workouts could actually increase your risk of developing COVID-19—specifically, high-intensity forms of exercise.

In a call-to-action statement published in the August edition of Current Sports Medicine Reports, ACSM doctors explain that, "this may not be the time to train for peak performance" because of the potential for intense exercise to weaken the immune system. In particular, individuals at a heightened risk for coronavirus "should refrain from exhaustive exercise, overreaching, and overtraining."

The study's authors note that "unusually high exercise workloads" can specifically increase a person's risk of developing an acute respiratory illness, like COVID, as well as raise their risk of dying from said illness.

young woman biking in coronavirus mask
Shutterstock/Maridav

"The immune system appears to be a bit suppressed for a period of time—an hour, a day—following really exhausting exercise," William Roberts, MD, lead author of the ACSM's guidelines, explained in an interview with the Star Tribune. While Roberts admitted that the exact physiological process by which this happens isn't entirely clear, "We do know it does increase your risk of viral illness," he said.

Luckily, that doesn't mean you necessarily have to give up your favorite activities to reduce your COVID risk. The ACSM recommends that healthy adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, preferably at home or a safe distance from other people in outdoor settings. For individuals participating in workouts that don't allow for social distancing, the ACSM also recommends wearing masks whenever possible, and suggested that those who continue to participate in high-contact activities get tested and participate in contract tracing.

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For those who've had a suspected or lab-confirmed case of COVID, the ACSM recommends avoiding all exercise for a two-week period after symptoms subsided or for two weeks after a positive coronavirus test, and talking with your doctor before returning to any exercise program.

Even if you can't meet the ACSM's recommendations regarding the duration of weekly exercise, even a short moderate-intensity workout is better than nothing at all. "The biggest thing…is to get off the couch," said Roberts. And if you want to know how risky your regular activities are, check out these 24 Things You're Doing Every Day That Put You at COVID Risk.

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