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For most individuals, working out has two main benefits: losing weight and building muscle. Few people are aware that the benefits of exercise actually go beyond the surface. Aside from keeping the body fit, studies have gathered that exercise can boost the immune system and help prevent illnesses.
Read on to know more about how working out, whether at home or in the office, can contribute to your overall health and support your immune system’s functions!
Does Regular Exercise Help the Immune System?
The short answer to this question is yes, exercise can help boost your immunity. We all know that working out benefits the body in a number of ways, and fortifying your immune system is just one of those.
Our immune system is made up of millions of white blood cells that protect us from environmental threats like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Exercise helps increase the production of many different types of white blood cells and antibodies, allowing them to circulate more rapidly so that they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before.
According to research, moderate-intensity exercises are the best to boost your immune system. In general, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that most adults should get at least 150-130 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.
Exercising at a moderate to vigorous intensity for 60 minutes or less is optimal to gain the immune-boosting benefits of workouts. Doing this daily, or almost daily, allows your immune and metabolic systems to strengthen further, building on previous gains.
Ways Exercise Benefits the Immune System
A healthy immune system protects your body from bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that you may encounter daily. Working out can help decrease your chance of developing illnesses, keep your bones healthy, and keep your body strong. Here are ways that exercise may help your immune system.
Stimulates Cellular Immunity
According to a 2019 research review, moderate-intensity exercises can stimulate cellular immunity by increasing the circulation of immune cells in the body. Among them are cells that are called macrophages. These travel through the body, collecting and destroying harmful bacteria and viruses as they go along. They can be extremely helpful, especially during times of stress.
Chronic stress hormones float around in our bodies, especially when our fight or flight mechanism is left on for too long. The stress hormones reduce the number of immune cells circulating. Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones, and lower stress hormones can protect you against illnesses.
Helps You Sleep Better
Lack of sleep can have negative effects on certain parts of the immune system. Some research has shown that there is a higher risk of infection and development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders due to a reduction in antibodies and the production of inflammatory cytokines in people with a modest amount of sleep loss.
Regularly working out can help you sleep better as physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Being in deep sleep helps boost immune function, supports cardiac health, and can even control stress and anxiety.
Decreases Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
Having cardiovascular diseases or diabetes may make it more difficult for your immune system to fight off infections and viral illnesses. Exercising can help reduce cardiovascular risk factors, prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes, increase good cholesterol, and lower your resting heart rate.
Moreover, working out can also help control weight, lower your blood pressure, and lower blood glucose levels, making you healthier and improving your general well-being.
Inflammation is a normal response that the body uses to address pathogens or toxins. Acute inflammation isn’t exactly a problem. However, when this immune system response remains uncontrolled, it can become chronic and potentially harmful, leading to a host of inflammatory diseases.
Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercises can reduce inflammation. You lower the risk of chronic inflammation and maximize the effectiveness of the body’s inflammatory immune response when you do moderate-intensity exercises with appropriate rest periods.
Raises Body Temperature
During most forms of exercise, your body temperature will increase and will stay elevated for a short time after you complete a workout. This is significant as there is a commonly-held belief that this brief rise in body temperature both during and after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and help your body better address an infection, which is similar to how a fever works. It is important to note, though, that this still lacks evidence-based support but it may still be beneficial to the immune system.
How Much Should You Exercise?
Working out can boost immunity, however, one should also note that prolonged high-intensity training or overdoing exercises without appropriate rest between sessions can also suppress your immune system. If you already exercise, you shouldn’t exercise more just to increase your immunity.
Heavy, long-term exercise without rest can actually cause you more harm than good. Having a balance between exercising and resting is the most ideal. Being active most days of the week and having appropriate rest periods in between is an excellent goal that you can strive for.
You might also want to think twice before exercising if you’re feeling sick as working out while you’re feeling under the weather may make you feel worse or even delay your recovery. It’s important to take note of your symptoms and figure out where to proceed from there. If you’re experiencing things such as congestion, sneezing, sore throat, and runny nose, it may be alright for you to do mild exercises. However, if you have a fever, chills, body aches, coughs, nausea, and other severe symptoms, it’s best to skip your workout and rest instead. Always listen to your body before exercising.
Regular exercise can result in better sleep, lower stress levels, and increased circulation of immune cells, all of which are factors that contribute to a healthy immune system. Making moderate exercise a regular part of your day can help improve your overall health, leading to a better quality of life and well-being.