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Most people like to have some opportunity to prepare for new situations or tasks. In preparation for an important job interview, an individual might practice with a friend or family member. Teenagers go through a driver’s education course prior to getting driver’s license, a process that includes being behind the wheel to learn to operate a vehicle safely. Fire drills involve practicing appropriate responses in order to be prepared in the event of a fire emergency. Someone planning to run a 5K road race typically will do a number of training runs in order to improve fitness, stamina, and strength prior to the race. In preparation for a noisy crowd, an athletic team may conduct practices with a lot of noise in order to acclimate to the anticipated game-day situation.

Practice is a generally accepted means to be prepared for something new or important. If given the chance to practice, it is desirable take advantage of the opportunity in order to perform well, increase one’s safety, or avoid disappointing results.

With respect to health, many lifestyle behaviors function as a form of practice to decrease susceptibility to health risks. Nutritious diets, regular physical activity, and consistent and sufficient sleep are practices that can help a person be less vulnerable to becoming overweight, developing diabetes, or having a heart attack or stroke. Healthy behaviors are also known to improve immune system function so that one is less vulnerable to infectious diseases. Lifestyle behaviors needed to be practiced on an ongoing basis for maximum benefit.

There are other forms of health practices that only need to be done once or a few times for maximum benefit. Immunizations are an example of this. Getting a vaccine is a way for one’s immune system to practice for a potential infectious threat. That practice prepares the body to respond if exposed to the pathogen. In the realm of behavioral health treatment, a form of short-term cognitive behavioral therapy has been described as stress inoculation, practice for coping more effectively with stressors.

Most of the above examples of the benefits of practice are not controversial. The obvious exception is vaccines. One reason for vaccine hesitance is concern for safety, and yet many of the other practices mentioned previously themselves involve some risk — an injury during a fire drill or fitness training, or an accident during driver’s education, or embarrassment or disappointment in a practice session — and yet the potential benefit is viewed as outweighing the potential risk of the practice. Perhaps getting an immunization is not commonly viewed as “practicing” for exposure to an infectious disease, but it is indeed very low-risk practice for the immune system.

The saying “practice makes perfect” is typically not true, as perfection is rare in the human experience. What is usually true is that “practice makes one more prepared.” In the face of a highly contagious and potentially fatal virus, there is a one or two-time practice that results in excellent preparation for exposure to the virus — a vaccine. Practicing is what humans do to be prepared. From this perspective, practicing for COVID-19 is a clear form of preparation.

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