COVID-19: Four Tips to Embracing Exercise as Medicine for a Stronger Immune System

In January, my 81 year-old father-in-law passed away surrounded by a caring and loving family. We got to say goodbye. Right now, my heart is breaking for those being impacted by COVID-19 in the Seattle region and around the world who don’t have the same opportunity.

It is now reported that nearly a dozen long-term care facilities in our amazing Emerald City have been impacted, where proper goodbyes are being missed, faces can’t be touched, hands can’t be held, and hugs can’t be given. Where loved ones can’t talk face-to-face and people are stuck on brick islands of isolation from those they love.

My son was born at EvergreenHealth Medical Center where many COVID-19 patients are being treated and have died. Many of these nursing centers are right here in what feels like my backyard. We have so many customers who fall into the category of having “underlying conditions” and those who are over 60 (that’s who we are, it’s who we help). This all feels too close to home.

All I can think about right now is my role as a mom, wife, daughter, sister, neighbor, friend, mentor and CEO. And there is a common thread in addition to social distancing, staying home, and washing your hands and it’s “Keep Your Immune System Strong.”

COVID-19 Michele Mehl Excy blog post

It’s no secret that I believe in the science of exercise as medicine for all, whether living with an injury, disability, or an underlying health condition. Exercise is preventive medicine as well as an antidote for a strong immune system, and we need it now more than ever to stay healthy.

So, I wanted to share the advice I am giving to those who are closest to me as it relates to exercise (I do my best not to be the preachy exercise enthusiast, but I’m ready to cross those lines right now).

1. Really Meet the CDC’s Exercise Recommendations

CDC exercise guidelines call for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week, along with at least two days a week of muscle strengthening exercises. Adults with chronic conditions and disabilities, who are able, are encouraged to follow the same guidelines and to avoid inactivity if they can’t meet the guidelines. Find what works for you, whether inside or outside and depending on your health scenario (as well as the health of those you spend time with).

2. Don’t Just Sit There

Sedentary lifestyles carry increased risks for several serious diseases, but also sets you up right now for a weaker immune system. The rules of “sitting is the new smoking” have not changed as we embrace calls for social distancing and spend more time at home. We will all likely be watching more TV, playing video and card games, and doing more within four walls. Now is not the time to plant ourselves like a geranium in front of our screens. Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful. An analysis of 13 studies found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. Excy customers are invited to explore this Anti-Sedentary Excy Challenge. Do whatever you can to move more and sit sedentary less.

3. Snack on Exercise, Even Make it a Family Snack

For decades, we’ve been sold memberships and classes with the idea that we need 45-60 minute workouts or it just wasn’t worth the effort. We’ve also convinced ourselves that a short run or bike ride just wasn’t worth the time. In this “all or nothing” mindset, the choice to exercise can feel hard and it’s too easy to say ‘not today’, especially if someone is super busy or struggles with limited mobility due to an injury, disability, or chronic health condition. The great news is that research shows that peppering mini-workouts, especially burst of vigorous exercise, not only counts, but it can play a significant role in reducing the risk of, or preventing, chronic disease. Some will keep going to the gym, some will not. Whatever you do, think of exercise like snacking on potato chips to ease some of the barriers to squeeze in more vs. less. Snacking on exercise is also fun with the kids (think TV commercials, squats while brushing teeth together, and more).

4. Exercise with Underlying Conditions

Wielding exercise as medicine, we all must focus on squeezing in exercise, even in the ICU where researchers have demonstrated that physiotherapists can safely start in-bed cycling sessions with critically ill, mechanically ventilated patients early on in their ICU stay. In fact, the research showed that ICU patients who start in-bed cycling two weeks into their ICU stay could walk farther at hospital discharge. It’s why we invented our hospital version and will soon announce a smaller version (working as fast as we can). Whether your are in a nursing center, a hospital, or at home, it’s critical that exercise and movement is part of your daily routine. For our customers who are bedridden, don’t forget that you can use your Excy to exercise in bed. Also, if you can, pedal Excy on the porch to get fresh air and to get out of the house. Also, take your Excy outside with a ball and play fetch with the fur babies! They need exercise too.

Exercise is Critical for a Strong Immune System

Regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help us feel better, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily. But, documented health benefits also include reduced risk of excessive weight gain in adults, children, and pregnant women. It also shows improved cognitive function and a reduced risk of dementia. Research also shows that exercise can reduce the risk of cancer of the bladder, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach. Most of these improvements become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Of course exercise isn’t the only answer. Proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, and all other recommendations by the CDC and the Cancer Exercise Training Institute are critical for staying healthy. I’ve also partnered up with some local fellow founders in the Seattle area to do what we can to not just be the U.S. epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, but also a hub of innovation. This includes companies like Gennev, who offer telemedicine for women in menopause, GiveInKind which offers a social platform for coordinating support for loved ones in need, and more specifically focused on helping move innovation forward during this COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 is causing and will cause more seismic shifts in our daily lives. Please let one of those shifts be embracing the power of exercise as medicine to build up and keep your immune system strong.

Keep moving to stay healthy,

Michele Mehl

Co-founder & CEO | Excy


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