The coronavirus has thrown up multiple challenges, but perhaps none so pressing for those of us in quarantine at home as how to keep our immune systems performing at optimum levels.
Fortunately, where there are challenges, there are also bursts of creativity with innovative minds seeking ways to adapt to the new circumstances. This has certainly been the case at King’s College schools where exercise and diet has been a daily priority in the virtual learning schedule.
“This is actually a really exciting time for Physical Education,” says Ben Ross, Lead Practitioner for Expressive Arts at King’s College Alicante. “The other teachers and myself are working with teachers from around the world to ensure we continue to deliver the highest quality PE to all our students. We are constantly sharing resources and our students absolutely love the lessons. We have had some very good feedback from parents as well!”
According to the US government site Medline Plus, exercise can flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, increase the speed antibodies circulate, raise body temperature, which helps to ward off infection and manages the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, thereby protecting against illness.
“Exercise has been found to enhance the body’s immune response and improve its defence activity. Regular, habitual exercise resets the immune system, something known as ‘immunoregulation’ Dr. Sara Kayat, the resident General Practitioner on the UK TV show, This Morning. “While the extent of this will clearly depend on the amount and type of exercise you do, the UK National Health Service guidelines are to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week into your routine.”
The word “moderate” is key here as too much exercise, such as an uninterrupted 90-minute high intensity work out, is thought to actually diminish the capacity of white blood cells to resolve infections.
As we juggle schoolwork with chores, meals and family time in a confined space, shorter but consistent exercise regimes are clearly more appropriate and practical.
Using the digital technology that was rolled out as soon as the strict quarantine rules applied, King’s College schools have been ahead of the game when it comes to keeping their students fit and motivated. The instructions may be delivered online, but screens are very much secondary to the activities themselves.
“We upload a daily PE challenge,” says Lewis Ryland, Head of Physical Education at King’s College Murcia. “We have had the sally up, sally down squat challenge and seeing how long you can plank for. We have also made instructional videos on how to circuit train at home and a resource sheet to go with them. Tomorrow we will be doing glutes and leg workouts.”
Meanwhile, at King’s College Alicante, the Physical Education Team has spiced things up by introducing an entertainment factor. “We have a workout related to the show Friends; students have to do things such as holding the plank position during the introduction and do two press ups every time Joey says something silly,” says Ben Ross. “We have also adapted games like Monopoly and Uno to include exercises that players need to complete.”
In an effort to broaden the scope of exercise in confinement, Ben and the Alicante team have also introduced parts of the Insanity Fitness programme for older students that require them to identify the muscles and joints used in each task they complete.
Meanwhile, in King’s College Madrid, Deputy Head of Primary Sally-Anne Banks, explains, “The Primary children have continued with their usual two to three PE lessons a week, some of which are practical and some involving fun activities. Teachers ‘meet’ with their classes every day and discuss how they are feeling and what they are doing to look after themselves. We stress the importance of taking breaks, eating healthily, drinking water and finding activities that don’t involve screen.”
King’s College Madrid’s Primary teacher Joanne Weale adds that the younger children are receiving videos of exercises they are already familiar with from sessions in the classroom as well as yoga. “We are also giving them exercises to do as they count and are setting challenges such as making their beds, so yes, we are incorporating movement into as many activities as possible.”
With the unrelenting news of illness and the sudden change to routines, it is to be expected that anxiety levels may rise – an aspect of quarantine that Lewis Ryland, Head of PE in King’s College Murcia, is keen to tackle. “I am trying to do some podcast style videos, talking about anxiety, depression and stress and how sport can help with them,” he says. “This is an area of special interest to me.”
While acute stress may temporarily boost our immune systems, chronic stress is associated with consistently raised production of cortisol – a hormone that suppresses the immune system to a degree, according to Dr. Sara Kayat. It is also thought to make us particularly prone to respiratory illnesses.
In a series of studies over 20 years carried out by the US global research Carnegie Mellon University, it was found that volunteers who had less stress in their lives were also less likely to develop cold symptoms when exposed to the virus and quarantined.
Apart from physical exertion, yoga, meditation and breathing all help to cope with stress and anxiety, which is something King’s teachers have taken into account. King’s College Murcia provides a live after-school yoga session as well as during activity times via a Google hangout call, with similar initiatives being pursued in the other schools.
At primary level, Sally-Anne Banks says, “We are very conscious that we get the right balance of work and routines and family time for the children and are listening carefully to feedback from parents and students. On Friday, we had a Primary Student Council meeting and the representatives fed back observations from their class on Home Learning.”
King’s College Latvia is also paying special attention to children’s stress levels, though the population there can still get out in the fresh air.
“Physical and mental health priorities go hand in hand at the moment, mental health probably being the most important,” says the school’s Head teacher Adele Stanford. “We are continuing with our PE lessons while our nurse and counsellor are producing guidance for families about staying healthy and positive. We have also introduced one to one check-ins with the teachers and children each week for them to talk about their feelings and we are allowing children to talk amongst themselves on the online conferencing system.”
Besides a good night’s sleep of between six and seven hours, our immune systems are, of course, also largely dependent on the food we eat. A diet that includes Vitamin D, which we get from exposure to sunlight and also oily fish, egg yolks and cheese, is vital to the immune system, particularly with regard to respiratory illness as our bodies need Vitamin D to produce the antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria.
“If you don’t have adequate vitamin D circulating, you are less effective at producing these proteins and more susceptible to infection,” says Dr. Adit Ginde, Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who carried out trials on 11,000 patients. “These proteins are particularly active in the respiratory tract.”
Zinc is also essential to a healthy immune system and is found in seafood, meat and pulses. Then there are the B and C vitamins that also play an important role with onions, chickpeas, tuna, salmon, rice and cereals being a good source of B6, which helps to build the cells of our immune systems, while Vitamin C, essential to normal immune function, is found in vegetables and fruit.
During quarantine, the temptation to make a B-line to the fridge and the biscuit tin may be strong but also important to resist! The best way to do this is to keep each day structured, according to Dr. Jana García Cerrato in an article for Biotech magazine recommended by King’s College Madrid’s nutritionist, Marina Escudero. “The fridge should not become our obsession. Everything should have a fixed time and a plan,” she says, adding that improvisation is the enemy of good health.
Talks on eating well are being woven into the online curriculum and while Joanne Weale says it is something she will talk about with her class on a daily basis, Ben Ross explains that at King’s College Alicante, “We provide a lot of information regarding nutrition and healthy eating as we think this is very important. We also try and use the food they eat to link to exercises required to burn the calories involved. Or we ask them to create a healthy meal using the food in their kitchen.”
Some of the exercises students have been given include analysing the diets of professional athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps or boxer Anthony Joshua, which they then compare to their own diets.
The nursery children at King’s College Latvia are also being encouraged to analyse their diets. “In nursery, the children meet with the nursery staff for breakfast online each day and part of that has been discussing what aspects of their breakfast are really healthy,” says Head teacher Adele Stanford.
According to Dr. Jana García, as well as respecting proper mealtimes at this time, processed and sugary foods should be avoided and lots of water and infusions drunk. She also stresses that healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, white meat, pulses, yoghurt, black chocolate and eggs, are our greatest allies along with exercise in our collective fight against the pandemic.