You’ve probably heard that exercise can boost your immune system, but maybe you’re wondering how significant this is, and how much exercise you need to reap the benefits. Studies have consistently shown that regular exercise can not only significantly reduce your risk of infection, but also the severity of symptoms if you are infected. Exercise is more important than ever as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and in this post, we’ll explain how exercise can help keep you healthy.
How Exercise Affects Your Immune System?
You first need to understand how exercise effects your immune system. While scientists have yet to identify the exact reason why, there are several theories about why exercise boosts immunity, which is likely a combination of several factors:
- Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways.
- Exercise increases the amount of white blood cells and their circulation within your body, so they can find pathogens and wipe them out.
- The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and may help the body fight infection better (similar to what happens when you have a fever).
- Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones, which can compromise your immune system.
- Exercise can improve sleep. Research has shown that sleep improves the efficiency of T-cells (a type of white blood cell) ,which help fight off pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
- Regular exercise can reduce sources of inflammation in your body that impair your immune system.
How Much Does Exercise Matter?
A 2019 scientific review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that exercise can improve your immune response, lower illness risk and reduce inflammation — but by how much? Studies show the impact can be quite significant:
- A 2018 study of 1,413 people in China found that those who reported exercising at least three times a week reduced their likelihood of getting a cold by 26%.
- Another 2018 study of 390 people found that those who were trained with an eight-week regimen of moderate exercise reduced their risk of acute respiratory illness by 14% and their number of sick days by 23%, compared with people who did not receive the exercise training.
- A study published in 2011 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found those who did aerobic exercise five or more days of the week lowered the number of upper respiratory tract infections (such as the common cold) over a 12-week period by more than 40%.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Fitness Routine
Now that you know how impactful exercise can be, here’s how to maximize the benefits:
Exercise regularly. Long runs on the weekends alone won’t cut it. The benefits of exercise on the immune system are temporary, so you need to do it often to see the gains. You should emphasize frequency over intensity and duration, setting a goal of five or more times per week.
Moderate exercise is best. Most studies looked at aerobic activity, such as walking, running or cycling. There is less research on HIIT or strength training, but most experts believe they provide similar benefits.
Whatever you do, the key is to get your heart rate going, but to keep activity to a moderate level of intensity. If you’re doing a walk, make sure it is a brisk pace — but don’t push it too hard. In fact, experts warn against extremely strenuous exercise, such as training for a marathon or doing power lifting. Very intense and prolonged exercise can actually put more stress on your body, competing for resources and potentially compromising your immune system. This shouldn’t be a concern for the majority of exercisers, but just be mindful that higher intensities won’t necessarily provide additional benefits.
The Bottom Line: Exercise Works
Exercise should not be considered a replacement for masks, good hygiene or social distancing — but when used in conjunction, exercise can be an additional layer of defense against pathogens and infection. In addition, exercise provides other benefits, such as improved mental health and decreased stress levels, that can help during this strenuous time.
If you are new to exercise, we suggest starting at a level you are comfortable with doing but frequently, even if it means short walks. You should then start gradually increasing the intensity and duration until you reach a moderate level of intensity. If you need help creating a workout program, setting fitness goals or just need some accountability, our team of certified personal trainers are here to help. We offer trial training packages, both in-person and virtual. Visit us at https://www.flowfitnessseattle.com.