RUNNERSWORLD.COM POSTED AN ARTICLE DISCUSSING THE OUTBREAK AND WHAT SHOULD BE OF CONCERN TO RUNNERS IN PARTICULAR. written by Danielle Zickl. The main warning involves those who are at peak levels of training for or who have just competed in a long-distance race, including marathons and half marathons, or ultras.
Immunity can be compromised in situations in which athletes push themselves to the highest levels of effort, making them more vulnerable to infection the article cautions.
Earned Runs decided to look a bit more closely into the specific details of increased risk for athletes related to immune status. A 2018 article by Neil P. Walsh from the University of Bangor in Bangor, United Kingdom, reviewed the scientific information on this topic: “Recommendations to Maintain Immune Health in Athletes.”
Most helpful was Walsh’s initial identification of prominent risk factors that contributed to decreased athlete immunity, which included “intensified training in the winter; long haul travel; low energy availability; high levels of psychological stress and anxiety; and depression.”
This information was followed by a listing of challenges that “athletes might frequently encounter”: heavy exercise, life stress, sleep disruption; environmental extremes, and nutritional deficits.” Shown in diagram form for big-picture understanding, these challenges were also discussed in separate sections in the article, with the background science explained in much greater detail.
Most importantly Walsh offered the promised recommendations as to how training might be modified to maintain the body’s protections against infection during and after sessions as well as competition. One word, in my opinion, might be used to summarize these training recommendations: modulation.
The definition of this word according to Google is “the exertion of a modifying or controlling influence on something.” By my take, Walsh is saying that physical training at levels which greatly stress the body should be controlled by activities that promote recovery and modulated by alternation with sessions of lesser stress. The points of his self-described mini-review on the topic discuss specific tactics by which training rigors can be smoothed out to help athletes avoid dips in immunity:
Most of the above recommendations seem to be what expert trainers already preach to recreational runners. Many will welcome a fitness prescription that directs us to rest and relax, to enjoy life after a tough season of training and a completed goal competition. Elite athletes are likely to view rest and recovery differently, especially professionals who depend on results/outcomes to secure financial support. However, the attitudes of elites toward training can be adopted by high-performing recreational athletes who love winning contests for non-financial reasons.
The recommendations put forth by Walsh for maintenance of immunity in athletes, in the midst of a novel coronavirus pandemic, can help us use fitness activities to boost rather than harm health. According to the expert quoted in the runnersworld.com article, runners who train normally are likely to enhance their ability to fight off infections like the common cold. Improved immunity is one of the expected benefits of improved fitness!
Because some runners may have followed intense training programs during the winter to compete in spring endurance races, and now in the midst of a pandemic infection threat face additional life stresses, a personal assessment of risk should be considered to guide further training.
These next months, in which social distancing and preparedness are advocated by health authorities, could present the perfect recovery opportunity to recharge bodies recently tested by heavy physical training.
Family members have expressed distress at not being able to exercise, run, and cycle, and otherwise work out on a normal schedule because of life disruptions related to the COVID-19 outbreak, precautions taken against infection, and efforts to get ready for a potential confinement period. Now might be the time to acknowledge that settling for a more-manageable level of physical activity will be beneficial to health and protective against psychological stress, anxiety, and depression.
Literally, the best advice might be to not ‘sweat’ these next weeks and months of abbreviated or missed training. Whatever level of physical fitness effort can safely and logistically be exerted, given the dangers and constraints of the pandemic, should be celebrated.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
“Recommendations to maintain immune health in athletes.” European Journal Of Sport Science. Neil P. Walsh. (Abstract https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29637836)
Full article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/17461391.2018.1449895
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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