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Leisure Management - Best defence

Immunity

Best defence


Finding the best ways to boost immunity using exercise has never been more important. Two fitness equipment developers have taken up the challenge, with protocols that assist in strengthening the body’s defences

HCM has taken a closer look at the products from EGYM and Wattbike Jacob Lund/shutterstock

If there’s a positive to be found in the COVID-19 pandemic, it surely must be society’s awakening as to the importance of staying healthy as a defence against illness, and the vital role exercise plays in this.

According to research collated by the NHS, exercise can reduce the risk of major illnesses by up to 50 per cent, and lower your risk of early death by 30 per cent. As people around the world went into lockdown, exercise suddenly became a daily habit, rather than a forgotten chore.

Now gyms around the world are reopening, two fitness equipment developers – EGYM and Wattbike – are directly addressing the question of how exercise can best be utilised to boost the body’s defences to disease.

Their solutions consider three main risk factors. Firstly, immunity declines with age. This could explain why Covid-19 has proved to be particularly dangerous to older adults. According to Dr Nir Barzilai, scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research, vulnerability increases start around the age of 55, when natural killer cells that usually fight infections become less effective at destroying virus-infected cells.

Secondly, excess fat tissue increases inflammation. Obese or overweight individuals are almost twice as likely to die from COVID-19 and influenza. Thirdly, studies also show that patients who have type 2 diabetes or other metabolic syndromes are ten times more at risk of dying from COVID-19.

With an ageing population and a growing obesity epidemic, a high percentage of the population is extremely vulnerable to potentially life threatening infections such as, but not limited to, COVID-19.

“The pandemic has heightened awareness of immunology and the vulnerability of certain demographic groups to infection,” says Andreas Grabisch-Mikula, data and sports scientist, EGYM. “Long after COVID-19 has been controlled, the benefits of a strong immune system will remain.

“Through the application of training programmes based on scientific evidence, exercise can play a key role in the fight against infection for everyone, especially older adults, obese adults and those with underlying metabolic health conditions.”

Eddie Fletcher, Wattbike lead sport scientist agrees: “Sport and exercise science has always been the bedrock of everything we do. With the pandemic shining a light on the unhealthy state of the world, we decided it was time to explore the sometimes complicated relationship between exercise, the immune system, and medical conditions.”

EGYM ● Immunity Boost
A 30 minute strength training programme, supported by a pre-workout stretch routine and a light cardiovascular cool-down
Andreas Grabisch-Mikula is data and sports scientist at EGYM
The science:

“Exercise immunology is a relatively new area of scientific research, with 90 per cent of the papers on this topic published in the last 30 years, but the evidence supporting the positive impact of strength training on the immune system is compelling,” says Grabisch-Mikula.

“There's also significant evidence to suggest a positive correlation between cardiovascular activity and a reduction in inflammation,” he continues. “Boosting immunity and suppressing inflammation have been scientifically shown to improve an individual’s ability to fight infection. Having completed an extensive review of literature on these two subjects – long before COVID-19 became a global threat – we set about designing an exercise programme that would trigger these specific responses. The result is our Immunity Boost programme.”

The main premise of Immunity Boost is based on the physiological effects of strength training on the immune system. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham explains: “Skeletal muscle helps the immune system, because muscular contraction produces small proteins called myokines, that seek and destroy infection in the body and keep inflammation from getting out of hand.”

However, scientific evidence suggests that long and strenuous workouts can cause something called the ‘open window effect’.

This theory proposes that short-term suppression of the immune system can follow an acute bout of endurance exercise, creating a window of 3-72 hours during which time there is an increased susceptibility to the onset of upper respiratory illness.

The Open Window effect proposes that short-term suppression of the immune system follows an acute bout of endurance exercise, creating a window of increased susceptibility to upper respiratory illness

“To maximise the training benefit,” explains Grabisch-Mikula, “The EGYM Immunity Boost programme provides optimal intensity and progression to promote the release of as many protective myokines as possible, but without activating the open window effect and increasing the risk of infection.”

The programme:

Designed to be completed at least twice per week, the 12-week Immunity Boost programme is split into four training phases, which ensure that the user progresses at an effective, safe rate, firing up immune responses, while protecting the negative effects of over-training.

The programme includes intra-set pauses, meaning that rather than a set of 15 reps, the set is broken down further into repetitions of five, broken by a pause before completing the next five. The effect of this is a decrease in exertion and an elevation of intramuscular bloodflow, which protects against suppression of the immune response.

Immunity Boost appears as a pre-programmed, 30-minute, strength training plan and is available on EGYM’s Smart strength training circuit. Once the user has performed a single-rep isokinetic strength test on each piece of equipment and provided personal data, such as gender, age and weight, the programme prescribes bespoke intensity, sets, repetitions and cadence in the optimal mix, to fire up the immune system, while also protecting against the immunity suppression associated with over-training.

EGYM recommends a stretch routine prior to each strength training session, to increase lymphatic flow and improve oxygen flow – both factors which activate the immune system. A cardiovascular cool-down completes the session.

According to a paper by Hooren & Peake (2018), an active cool-down can prevent the depression of levels of circulating immune cells.

Get on board:

EGYM is presenting Immunity Boost in a number of formats to ensure accessibility to as wide an audience as possible.

The programme is prescribed through the EGYM Smart strength circuit, supported by the Smart Flex mobility circuit.

Progression can also be logged and monitored through the EGYM Branded Member App and for operators who don't have access to Smart Flex or Smart Strength, a modified version is available via the EGYM Branded Member App – currently available free of charge through the COVID-19 re-opening phase.

More: www.HCMmag.com/immunityboost

The programme is calibrated by a one-rep isokinetic test
Immune support programmes will be popular with consumers as we battle with COVID-19
Wattbike ● The Wattbike Health Assessment
A test that shows individuals their current health and fitness benchmarks; and assigns a personalised training plan and individual training zones to improve their health and decrease their risk of developing a health condition
The Wattbike Health Assessment programme is free of charge
The science:

Research into the benefits of exercise have identified cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) as an accurate way to measure someone’s physical health – in simple terms it indicates how effective the body is at transporting oxygen to the places it’s needed. Measuring someone's CRF clearly shows their 'functional capacity'.

Having good levels of CRF is dependent on the status of a linked chain of processes in the body, which operates through the respiratory, cardiovascular and skeletal muscle systems.

A growing number of studies have found that CRF is a more powerful predictor of mortality risk than most other traditional indicators, such as hypertension, smoking, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Mounting evidence has firmly established that low levels of CRF are associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality rates attributable to various cancers. 

Although it's not a diagnosis test, the CRF test can function as an initial risk assessment, and can be used as a preventative measure to determine if an individual is at particular risk of developing cardiorespiratory or metabolic disorders based on their CRF score.  

The health assessment:

Wattbike has created an easy-to-do, accessible and accurate test that gives each individual their CRF score and predicted VO2max to show people their current health and fitness benchmarks. Following the test, the system provides a personalised training plan and individual training zones that will increase their CRF score by the end of the recommended training block. 

The training plan is crucial, because according to Dr Richard Simpson, an associate professor at the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Paediatrics and Immunobiology at the University of Arizona, with each bout of exercise, and particularly whole-body cardiorespiratory exercise, millions of immune cells are immediately mobilised. Especially those types of cells that are capable of recognising and killing virus-infected cells.

Partnership with BUPA:
The Wattbike Health Assessment can be accessed via the Wattbike Hub app and is free of charge to access. Thanks to an official partnership with Bupa, anyone can sign up to undertake the Wattbike Health Assessment at numerous Bupa clinics around the UK or even at home.

More: www.HCMmag.com/healthassessment

The assessment can be part of a COVID-19 programme
With each bout of exercise, millions of immune cells are mobilised, especially those that kill virus-infected cells

Originally published in Health Club Management 2020 issue 6
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