How to build a strong immune system? This might be the most common question of 2020. Living through a global pandemic has been difficult, to say the least, for every single person on this planet. We don’t know what the next day will bring and we’re not sure if we’re physically and mentally equipped to handle it. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and during these challenging times, we are learning new ways to improve our health and become better, stronger versions of ourselves. We’re gaining more knowledge about exercise and immune system, and the connection between the two.
Exercise and Immune System
Can exercise boost immunity? We all know that staying active is beneficial to our health and well being. When it comes to best ways to boost the immune system, fitness is right there at the top of the list, along with healthy diet and good sleep.
The World Health Organization recommends regular exercise as a way of protection against the virus, besides the obvious social distancing and hand washing. So yes, we can safely say that there’s a positive link between exercise and immune system.
Effects of Exercise on the Immune System
How does exercise boost the immune system? Exercise alters antibodies and white blood cells – the immune cells that fight off diseases. To put it simply, exercising promotes circulation of blood, which also promotes circulation of immune cells throughout the body. It boosts natural killer cells and T cells which play a crucial part in immunity to foreign invaders. These immune cells aren’t always circulating in large numbers – they’re usually located in lymphoid tissues. However, once you start exercising the muscles start to contract, the blood flow increases and so does the number and movement of immune cells.
This means that every time you work out, you’re allowing these cells to do their job efficiently – which is looking for intruders such as bacteria, viruses or parasites, and attacking them. This is the process that connects exercise and immune system.
Best Exercise For Immune System
As surprising as it sounds, you don’t really need to do any intense workouts to improve your health. Although it may seem very complicated and challenging, strengthening your immune system does not require the regime of a bodybuilder. In fact, the consistency of your workout routine is more important than the intensity of it. To promote the effects of exercise on the immune system, it’s important that you stay active and work out every day for less than an hour, or at least a couple of times a week.
So, what’s the best exercise for immune system? The answer is: any moderate intensity activity that gets your blood flowing. This includes activities that anyone can do, such as brisk walking, biking, swimming, jogging, yoga, body weight training, etc.
The regular practice of moderate intensity physical exercise directs the immune response to an anti-inflammatory status, that is believed to be the main desired molecular mechanism to improve the health outcomes.Scheffer, D., & Latini, A. (2020). Exercise-induced immune system response: Anti-inflammatory status on peripheral and central organs. Biochimica et biophysica acta. Molecular basis of disease, 1866(10), 165823. Article available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbadis.2020.165823
As mentioned earlier, blood circulation is crucial for the efficiency of the immune cells. You need to increase your heart rate and you need to do it on a regular basis. Just pick any light exercise that you find enjoyable and keep at it!
Overtraining and Immune System
You might be thinking: “If the effects of exercise on the immune system are positive, should I do daily intense workouts to become super healthy?” Absolutely not!
You can help your body boost immune cells by working out, but you won’t get any healthier if you overdo it. Quite the contrary, overtraining can lower the function of the immune system and make you more vulnerable to colds and viruses. How can this happen? Is there a negative connection between exercise and immune system? There seems to be one.
Prolonged, extreme exercise can increase the levels of stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol, which may interfere with the efficiency of immune cells shortly after your training.
High-intensity and high-volume training is thought to cause short- or long-term immune depressive states that can increase infection risk. Repeated bouts of strenuous exercise, performed without adequate recovery, result in a chronic state of impaired immunity. The decline in the count of circulating immune cells is associated with the increased susceptibility to infections: although athletes and healthy age-matched controls have comparable absolute and relative leukocyte counts, endurance athletes may experience reduced resting lymphocyte (runners) and NK-cell (swimmers, cyclists) counts.Lombardi, G., Ziemann, E., & Banfi, G. (2019). Physical Activity and Bone Health: What Is the Role of Immune System? A Narrative Review of the Third Way. Frontiers in endocrinology, 10, 60. Article available at https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2019.00060
The effects of exercise on the immune system are unquestionably positive. Moderate, regular physical activity lowers the risk of illness, reduces stress and inflammation and improves physical and mental health. These are much needed benefits for everyone living through these troubled times.
If you’re struggling with a weak immune system, it’s time to take action and implement fitness in your daily routine. There are many exercise benefits for immunity and now is the best time to get them!