Why physical activity is important for the body’s immune system

It is hard to escape the fast-moving and ever-changing environment surrounding the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It’s important to be informed and act responsibly in these uncertain times as we continue to adapt to Federal Government recommendations relating to mass gatherings, social distancing and basic hygiene.

These interventions are critical in reducing the spread of potential viral and bacterial infections and should be adhered to unequivocally.

It is also important to remember the proactive things we can do to optimise our own physical health and immune system, to help ward off an infection.

For those of us who remain free of illness and any known exposure to COVID-19, it is important not to panic or withdraw from your regular healthy habits of eating, sleeping and exercise, while adhering to government health and safety recommendations.

COVID-19 is rightly at the front of all current considerations but with winter – a heightened period of illness (common cold and flu) – on the horizon, it’s important to maintain a healthy regime to optimise your ability to ward off illness.

Extensive contemporary evidence from epidemiological studies (references below) show:

  • Leading a physically active lifestyle reduces the incidence of communicable (bacterial and viral infections) and non-communicable diseases (cancer)
  • Habitual exercise improves immune regulation
  • Your body’s immune competency is enhanced by regular exercise bouts.

In relation to COVID-19, depending on your current circumstance, you may fall into one of these two categories:

1. High Risk

If you are of high risk (for example, recently returned from overseas, or been exposed to a person with a positive case of COVID-19), then it’s important to follow government instructions related to isolation and quarantine. If you are asymptomatic during these periods, then maintaining a healthy lifestyle while isolated can be important for optimising your long-term physical health. This could include home-based strength exercise, stretching/mobility exercise and cardio-based exercise on a treadmill/bike/erg, etc.

2. Low Risk

If you are otherwise well, continue to implement sound hygiene practices, such as regularly washing your hands, avoid face touching and the like, and maintain a healthy lifestyle while adhering to government health and safety recommendations, such as ‘social distancing’. Exercise remains a key contributor to your physical, immune and mental health. You should consider taking the necessary precautions with group training sessions and large exercise environments in the current climate but where possible, you should keep up regular exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling and exercise. A clinical environment where sound hygiene practices are in place can provide an ideal location to exercise.

A woman exercises doing a sit up on the floow with a white top and orange leggings

Physical activity is important for the body’s immune system. Photo: Supplied

Guided exercise options

If you are high risk and need guidance in establishing an independent exercise program based on your individual history, physiotherapists are well placed to help. Consultations can also be safely conducted via phone or teleconference.

If you are low risk, and exercise in a small clinically hygienic environment, remember to optimise your social distancing in accordance with government recommendations. You should also seek to keep your indoor sessions below the two-hour guideline and thoroughly wash your hands before and after sessions.

We are all keen to stay healthy but taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing in trying times can be difficult. If you need help in guiding your way through this period, the team at Renew Physiotherapy is here to assist. We’ve put a number of extra practices in place to ensure we’re maintaining rigorous hygiene practices to provide a welcoming environment for our clients and staff.

We’ve been in business since 2012 and have extensive clinical experience, including a specific interest in sports injuries and clinical pilates.

We’ve created an environment where we can provide high quality assessment, treatment and injury management, and are committed to providing quality care and empowering to to get back to optimal health and ongoing self-management.

* The advice in this article is not a replacement for medical advice. If you are unwell, or seeking information on coronavirus (COVID-19). Please call 1800 020 080  – this line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For current information, visit the DHHS website.

Written by Andrew Fookes.

Andrew is an APA Sports-Titled Physiotherapist, who has worked with the Victorian Institute of Sport in the Rowing and Men’s Hockey programs and with Australian Rowing since 2011. Andrew consults at Renew Physiotherapy, 530 Glenferrie Road Hawthorn. For appointments please contact the clinic on 9818 3373 or email: [email protected]


1: Romeo JWärnberg JPozo TMarcos A. Moderate physical activity or moderate-regulated training may enhance the immune function. Physical activity, immunity and infection. Proc Nutr Soc. 2010 Aug;69(3):390-9. doi: 10.1017/S0029665110001795. Epub 2010 Jun 23.

2: Nieman DC and Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Health Science. (2019) 8(3). 201-217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009

3: Campbell JP and Turner JE, Debunking the Myth of Exercise Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Front. Immunol. (2018) 9:648. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648

4: Warburton DER, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: a systematic review of current systematic reviews. Curr Opin Cardiol (2017) 32(5):541–56. doi:10.1097/HCO.0000000000000437


‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.’ Joseph H. Pilates