Immunity Boost Yet Another Reason to 'Try the Y'

By now you’ve probably heard about the “Quarantine 15.” Maybe you’re even feeling the effects of it personally. As this pandemic continues, the need to take our physical and mental health seriously is clear.

While concerns about transmission of COVID-19 in closed indoor spaces like YMCA of Austin facilities are valid, a significant body of research shows that regular exercise provides an immunity boost that helps fight off illness. In addition to improving your mental health, a 2019 scientific review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that exercise can improve your immune response, lower illness risk, and reduce inflammation.

According to study author David Nieman, DrPH, of Appalachian State University, people generally have a small number of immune cells circulating around the body. However, those cells congregate around lymphoid tissues and organs like the spleen, where your body kills viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms that cause disease.

Exercise increases blood and lymph flow as muscles contract, also increasing the circulation of immune cells. In particular, exercise helps to recruit highly specialized immune cells, such as T cells, that attack pathogens. In the study, participants who walked briskly for 45 minutes increased the number of immune cells circulating in their body for up to three hours afterwards.

The study looked at “acute exercise,” meaning that of moderate to vigorous intensity lasting less than an hour. But the benefits apply to any activity that boosts the heart rate and breathing, from a Zumba or spin class to laps in the pool or even strength training.

Better still, the beneficial effects appear to be cumulative and increase with frequency of exercise. According to a 2011 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, frequent aerobic exercise lowered the number of upper respiratory tract infections over a 12-week period by more than 40 percent.

The YMCA of Austin is taking additional steps to create safe environments for exercise. All visitors receive temperature checks at entry. Masks are required at all times while indoors, except for persons with medical limitations. Capacity limits and social distancing are maintained throughout all areas. Y staff clean equipment frequently throughout the day. And the Y has added a variety of outdoor exercise classes.

Exercising in a community like the Y has an added mental health benefit, especially for people who have been isolated for months. The CDC reports that over 40 percent of Americans have struggled with mental health or substance abuse issues since the start of the pandemic. For many, a supportive community like the Y will help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve wellbeing.

So what are you waiting for? There’s never been a better time to “Try the Y.” Austin-area residents can visit any YMCA of Austin location for free Monday, October 26, through Saturday, October 31, to work out, hop on a treadmill, lift weights, join a group exercise class or even a pickleball game. Visitors will be entered to win a $50 program credit or YMCA Prize Pack. And if you join through October 31, we’ll waive the $49 join fee. Learn more



Sean Doles
All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer. Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to

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