3 Types of Exercise to Boost Your Immune System for Post-Social Distancing Living

Woman Hiking

COVID-19 has put the world on its back foot since its arrival in December 2019. And though we will survive, it will be at a high cost. As of May 21, there have been nearly 5 million reported cases worldwide and 327,000 deaths. The U.S. economy has come to a near halt, as well — restaurants and bars have shuttered which has kept us from our social lives.

What’s more, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert in infectious disease, says that the second wave of COVID-19 is “inevitable,” and that it’s expected to hit this fall or winter. The good news is that exercise can boost your immune system by helping it more quickly locate and deal with harmful pathogens. And as we age, regular exercise will keep our immune system strong and efficient.

A 2019 review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that moderate exercise can boost your immune system’s defense activity and metabolic health. Science Daily reported on a recent analysis that was published in the journal Exercise Immunology Review. By keeping your immune system healthy, you increase your chances of warding off viruses — COVID-19 and others — and exercise remains one of the most effective (and science-backed) ways to do so. Plus, you’ll feel better and have more energy!  

The Department of Health and Human Services suggests a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. They don’t specify types of activity, so we list three forms of exercise and outline the additional benefits of doing them for you to try.

Give them a try: you’ll be stronger — in more ways than one — for it.

3 Types of Exercise to Boost Your Immune System

Strength Training

strength training is a method of exercise that includes moves meant to improve your body’s strength and stamina. Here’s a quick primer on how muscles get bigger and stronger. 

If you’ve never performed, say, a pushup before and then do one rep, you’re introducing a new stressor to your working muscles — in this case, your chest, arms, and shoulders. As a result, the muscle tissues experience micro-tears, and the will body repairs them, to adapt, and they become both bigger and stronger as a result. That said, you don’t need lots of weight to elicit a change. If you’re new to strength training even the easiest variations of exercises will stimulate a response, and as you get stronger, you can increase the weight, reps, sets, or reduce your rest time to keep progressing. 

As for what the science says, strength training has been proven to increase muscle mass in adults (which translates to more calories burned at rest) and less fat mass. Beyond a better body, studies also link strength training to improved coordination, better cognitive function, higher bone density, and reduced back pain in inactive adults. Ipso facto: you’ll look and feel better. 

Try this routine:

Walking and Hiking 

Not ready to try strength training? Take a walk. Being inside and glued to our screens is not good for us — we don’t need research to tell us that, although it does. Though social distancing regulations are in place, you can go outside, which is what you should be doing because it lowers depression. A 2015 study from Stanford University linked 90-minute bouts of walking outdoors to decreased activity in the part of the brain that’s associated with depression. The more difficult terrain of trail hiking increases your workout intensity and you get to see more of nature. 

High-Intensity Interval Training

Also known as HIIT, high-intensity interval training has you perform an exercise hard as you can, for a set time (usually anywhere from 20 to 60 seconds) and then resting for the same amount of time. Compared to slow-and-steady exercise, you’ll jack your heart rate up far higher, far faster. It’s very strenuous, but the bonus is that a HIIT session typically lasts for about 15-20 minutes.

If it’s been a while since you exercised regularly, skip HIIT to start and build up your base level of fitness with light strength training and walking. It is intense. It’s that intensity, though, that garners an “afterburn” effect, where your body continues to use calories for hours after your workout, about 6 to 15% of your total calories burned from the initial session. Another study shows that a 30-second all-out sprint on a bike produced a 450% increase in human growth hormone production, which repairs brain and muscle tissues, boosts metabolism, and aids in fat loss. 

Try this HIIT Workout: 


Andrew Gutman

Andrew Gutman

Andrew Gutman is a Senior Associate Editor for Muscle & Fitness, and a contributing writer for Men's Journal and Business Insider. He graduated from Springfield College with a degree in Journalism and Communications in 2015.


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