If you’re like me, you’ve possibly heard, maybe even multiple times, the following statement or theory: if you exercise regularly during flu season you are increasing your chances of getting sick.
Or, what about this one: the worst thing you could do if you have a cold is to go for a brisk walk, your body needs rest (only).
Now, I’d call up the Mythbusters crew on these assumptions, but truly, there’s no need.
Why? Because, science has already weighed in on the subject and kicked those theories to the curb!
While it may be possible to overdo it when it comes to exercise and its impact on immune responses, the primary findings from research tell an immune system stimulating story…
Moderate Exercise Enhances Immune Responses
Science spoke in regards to exercise and immune responses recently, and I have to tell you, I’m liking what science had to say!
In 2019, a scientific review was published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science that showed the following concerning acute exercise (think brisk walks, cycling, running) and the immune system:
- Exercise can enhance immune responses
- Moderate exercise can decrease the risk of illness
- Exercise may reduce inflammation
So, let’s look at how your immune system functions to see this in action.
Your immune system works as your body’s defense mechanism against invading pathogens (viruses, bacteria, etc).
When a germ, or pathogen, enters your body, it needs to find a host to survive. So, it invades cells in your body, and your immune system sends specialized cells called T cells to destroy the infected cells.
These T cells then multiply to form an attack against any infected cells to keep the virus, or illness, from surviving in your body.
So, how does exercise enhance this immune response?
When you exercise, your muscles contract which causes a greater amount of blood flow within your body.
As those immune cells travel through your bloodstream, this increase in blood flow then causes the T cells to be stimulated and creates an increase in the circulation of these immune cells throughout your body.
The same study we referenced earlier showed this in action: After just a 45 minute walk, participants in the study were found to have increased immune cell movement throughout their body for up to 3 hours.
And, regular exercise seems to amplify these benefits!
While the fact that 45 minutes of exercise provided 3 hours worth of amped up immune cell movement is a great thing, what happens after that 3 hours?
Well, unfortunately those benefits begin to then diminish.
However, when you incorporate moderate exercise day in and day out (5 times per week is considered regular exercise) the benefits of physical activity on immune cell activity compounds.
In fact, one study found that folks who exercised regularly had 40% fewer respiratory infections over a 3 month period compared to those who did not routinely exercise.
Another study found that those who exercised even just 3 times per week decreased their likelihood of getting a cold by 26%.
So then, exercise does indeed benefit immune responses, and regular exercise is the key to maintaining optimal immune function.
But, let’s bump that up even more…long term regular exercise has even greater positive effects on your immune system.
Unfortunately as you age, your immune system is negatively affected. Namely, the functionality of those infection fighting T cells that we mentioned earlier declines.
But, studies on long term regular exercise have shown that such consistent physical activity over the course of time can slow down these negative effects on your immune system.
And, that’s not the only way exercise is thought to aid your body in the fight against infection!
- Exercise may help flush out bacteria from your lungs and airways.
- Your body temperature elevates during and immediately following exercise which can aid in your body’s fight against infection (basically mimicking a fever).
- Exercise combats stress and the release of the stress hormones that can make your body more prone to illness.
- Inflammation hinders immune responses, but exercise is known to reduce inflammation, yielding another win for your immune system.
What Type Of Exercise Is Best For Boosting Immunity
The most studied types of activity in regards to the links between exercise and immune response center around aerobic type workouts.
Activities like walking (briskly), running, cycling, and swimming have all shown to stimulate immune cell activity within the body.
Results from such studies suggest that aiming for roughly 70% of your max heart rate during exercise is key to optimal immune cell activation and/or circulation.
And, while HIIT and even strength training haven’t been thoroughly studied, it is believed that these activities do not hinder immune response and likely benefit your immune system as well.
How Much Is Too Much When It Comes To Exercise And Immune Responses
Though we’ve just learned that exercise can work wonders for optimal immune function, there may indeed be an invisible line here that can be crossed.
Aa a general rule, if you are already exercising on a regular basis, don’t adopt the “logic” that more is better and suddenly increase your activity tremendously simply because it’s flu season.
Also, if you do not exercise regularly, but would like to incorporate regular exercise to boost your body’s immune function, ease into it. In other words, going from couch to marathon in a week would definitely qualify as crossing that invisible line.
Concerning strength training, avoid severe muscle damaging workouts as your body’s muscle repair processes can interfere with immune responses. In other words, don’t overtax your system.
And truly, that last line is the best advice pertaining to how excessive exercise could negatively impact immune function.
The bottom line, you know your body. You know your fitness level, and that level will determine how long and how hard you can push yourself before you end up crossing the exercise line to then unintentionally hinder your body’s immune responses.
What do the experts say then? In seasons where illness is present, moderate exercise is best…but do remain physically active.
Tom Brady’s Bedroom Secret For Relieving Back Pain
How does Tom Brady still play professional football at age 42 with 300-pound men slamming him into the ground, week after week?
Tom recently shared his secret with CBS Boston sports…
He does this simple 4-min routine right from his bedroom…
And it’s the same routine Serena Williams does.
See, Tom Brady ditched weight-training a long time ago…because it was causing damage to his back and joints…
Instead, he now uses this special technique that helps him strengthen his entire body and improve mobility…
Plus it helps relieve pain and soreness.
It can be done right in your bedroom, or basically anywhere…
It only takes 4-minutes out of your day…
And a recent study from the Journal of Physical Therapy Science proves this routine is even more effective if you’re over the age of 50…