Does Working Out Kill Viruses?

We all know that exercise is good for our health, but does it have the power to kill viruses? We take a look at the science to find out.


More than ever, people are looking for ways to keep their physical and mental health in check. One of the most popular ideas is to get plenty of physical activity or exercise. But can exercise really help protect against disease-causing viruses, such as COVID-19? The answer may surprise you! In this article, we’ll discuss the potential effects of exercise on viral infections and whether there is any scientific evidence to back it up. We’ll also explore some of the ways that exercising regularly can benefit your overall health. By the end, you should have a better understanding of how physical activity might improve your ability to fight off infection, as well as what preventive measures can help protect you from sickness without having to go for a run or hit the gym.

The Physiological Effects of Exercise

Exercise has a unique ability to boost the body’s immune system and improve its overall health. One of the benefits of exercise is that it can help the body fight off viruses and other illnesses. Through increased heart rate and blood flow, the body can be better equipped to ward off any invading germs. In this article, we will explore the physiological effects of exercise and how it could potentially help kill viruses.

How Exercise Affects the Immune System

Regular exercise has a positive effect on the immune system and can help to reduce the severity of certain infectious diseases. Studies suggest that moderate physical activity stimulates the production of cytokines, small proteins that are released by cells in response to inflammation, infection and stress. Cytokines help regulate the immune system’s inflammatory response and help promote healing and recovery from illness.

Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of infection following exposure to a virus, as well as accelerate recovery when an infection does occur. Physical activity helps increase migration of antibody-producing cells to areas where they can interact with antigens, which helps improve your ability to fight off viruses. Additionally, improved circulation enables your body’s white blood cells (the immune system’s cellular defense) to be more effective at circulating throughout your body searching for and destroying foreign substances, so regular exercise may help keep viruses at bay.

However, intense exercise for a prolonged period of time can actually have a negative effect on how well your body fights off infection since it can temporarily shut down some parts of your immune system. Therefore it is important not to overexert yourself when you’re feeling ill or if you want to maintain optimal immunity from disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and viruses.

How Exercise Affects the Respiratory System

Exercise is known to improve physical and mental wellbeing, but did you also know that it has a direct impact on your respiratory system too? When you exercise, your body increases the amount of oxygen it breathes in order to meet the demands placed upon it. This increased level of oxygen helps to strengthen the muscles involved with respiration and leads to an overall more efficient respiratory system.

Another beneficial effect of exercise on the respiratory system is the excretion of excess carbon dioxide. The muscles involved in breathing contract more vigorously when exercising and expel air laden with carbon dioxide, making room for new air to enter the lungs. This helps to reduce buildup of CO₂ that can cause uncomfortable congestion if left unchecked.

Not only does exercise improve the overall efficiency and efficacy of respiration, but there may be further benefits as well. Studies have shown that regular physical activity can enhance immune responses, leading to a decreased risk for minor illnesses like colds and flu. As viruses primarily attack our upper and lower respiratory systems, strengthened immune responses induced by exercise may be an effective way to battle them off before they can take hold.

Does Exercise Help Prevent or Treat Viral Infections?

Exercise is known to benefit the body in many ways, but does it also help with preventing or treating viral infections? Recent studies suggest that physical activity can bolster the immune system and help the body fight off infectious viruses. Let’s take a look at the evidence to determine if regular exercise can really help protect us from viruses.

Evidence of Exercise Helping to Treat Viral Infections

Various studies have suggested that regular physical activity may help reduce the risk and severity of viral illnesses. Research is shedding more light on how exercise can reduce the risk of contracting a virus, as well as its positive effects on individuals who are already infected.

The findings of scientific literature point to a consistent benefit for individuals who exercise regularly and with moderate-intensity. In one study, it was found that regular aerobic exercise reduced self-reported cold and influenza-like illnesses in healthy adults by almost 50%. High intensity interval training has also been associated with decreased inflammation, which helps an individual better handle any viruses they might get exposed to.

Those already infected with a virus may see similar benefits with moderate intensity exercise. One recent study found that people who exercised moderately while having the flu experienced 50% fewer flu symptoms than those given medication or no treatment at all. Moderate levels of activity allowed those infected to mobilize their immune system and better fight infection, while remaining comfortable enough to avoid limiting further damage from potential overtraining.

Regular physical activity may also have direct antiviral effects due to the function of different cells in the human body which “listen” to distance signals sent from muscles when exercising. These signals activate large numbers of white blood cells called macrophages which help ward off infection, forming part of an overall defense against viruses such as HIV and malaria. Further studies are currently being carried out for a more definite answer about this aspect of the relationship between exercise and preventing and treating viral infections.

Evidence of Exercise Helping to Prevent Viral Infections

There are numerous studies that have been conducted to look at the effect of exercise on viral infections. The results of these studies vary, however, overall the preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion that regular exercise helps to prevent viral infections. One study found that among a group of active individuals who took part in an 8-week exercise program, 75 percent avoided catching a cold while only 25 percent of those in the control group contracted the virus.

Other studies have focused on specific types of infections. For instance, one study showed that regular exercise reduced the risk of infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) by an impressive 51 percent compared to those who were less active. Another study found that among a group of marathon runners, 81 percent avoided getting sick after being exposed to a cold-causing virus, which compared favorably with 67 percent for those not participating in physical activity.

Additional evidence from animal and cell culture experiments suggests that exercise can increase the body’s antiviral activities and reduce susceptibility to infections by boosting immunity and improving circulation. Taken together, this body of data suggests that physical activity plays an important role both in preventing viral illnesses and fighting them off once they occur.


In conclusion, while it’s possible that moderate intensity exercise could slightly decrease the duration and severity of a virus in some cases, it is not clear whether exercise would have a significant effect that would be worth the effort for individuals or for an entire population. There are other methods of combating viruses that are far more reliable, such as distancing, hygiene and even drug treatments. Exercise should still be a regular part of one’s routine to improve physical and mental health, but relying solely on its ability to fight off viruses is not recommended.

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