Exercise for Health
Regular exercise can improve almost everything. Exercise can improve your mood, make your bones and muscles stronger, improve brain health, create glowing skin, and reduce your risk of disease. Long-term, consistent fitness can reduce your risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
Plus, exercise can help you lose unhealthy weight, keep it off, and lower blood pressure. Fitness strengthens your heart, muscles, and bones.
Exercising can also improve immunity and keep you from getting sick.
Exercise for Immunity – Training Right
When you exercise, you signal your immune system to kick into action. How your immune cells respond depends on numerous factors including:
- What type of exercise you do
- How intense that exercise is
- How long you exercise
- Other factors, such as how hydrated you are
The right type of training can help your immune system fight bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other invaders that can make you sick. We aren’t entirely sure how, but scientists have some ideas. Regular exercise can help:
Regular exercise can also reduce the number of colds. In one study, postmenopausal women who walked 30 minutes daily for a year had half the number of colds as those who didn’t exercise.
The key to getting those immune-boosting benefits is to train correctly. Moderate amounts of exercise can support immunity. Repeated bouts of long, heavy exercise, on the other hand, can weaken your immune system and increase inflammation.
Inflammation is Your Body’s Natural Healing Response
Potential injuries or other harmful things can set off your immune system, which increases inflammation. Inflammation is a red flag to your body that something is “off.”
Immune cells respond to fix that problem. When that happens, you might feel pain, warmth, swelling, and redness. Those are all classic symptoms of inflammation.
In the short term, exercise increases inflammation. This is actually a good thing: It makes your body more resilient to stress. Just like when you cut your finger, your inflammatory response is promoted into action.
When your body confronts stress — any type infection or trauma — your immune system reacts and sends cells to fight the invader. This is the inflammation that you experience. Inflammation is your body’s way of healing, and it eventually goes away.
Sore muscles, sweat, and your heart racing after a good workout are all signs of healthy inflammation is kicking in. Inflammation is supposed to help heal the body or fight off infection, then go away, but when this inflammatory response stays elevated, a condition called chronic inflammation can result.
When you train correctly, exercise should lower inflammation. A workout can raise a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), for instance, which can increase anti-inflammatory proteins in your body.
Consistent exercise also helps you lose weight. That further helps manage inflammation since fat cells release damaging inflammatory factors.
Exercise That Creates Inflammation: Training Wrong
But too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Heavy, intense exercise can increase that damaging, low-grade inflammation that never goes away.
Too much intense exercise can also weaken your immune system. Some research suggests unusually heavy exercise, for instance, can increase your risk of upper respiratory tract infection. Moderate physical activity has the opposite effect.
Have you ever exercised too much? Maybe you hit the gym too much or trained hard for a marathon. Suddenly, you find yourself getting sick more often. Your energy levels lag at certain times. Your joints or muscles ache nearly constantly. This is called overtraining. Achiness, feeling tired, and sore muscles are all symptoms of overtraining and signs that your immune system is on overdrive.
Factors that Affect Your Immune System
During exercise, the number of some immune cells can increase by up to 10 times, especially those that deal with infections. After exercise, some of these cells decrease, and for a few hours can fall to levels lower than before you started exercising.
Rather than suppressing your immune system, scientists now believe those immune cells might work in other parts of your body that exercise impacts, such as your lungs.
That research questions whether strenuous exercise can weaken your immune system. Researchers aren’t entirely sure. Other factors, not just overtraining, can impact your immune system.
For example, if you are going on a marathon, you might commute a long distance to get to that event, lose sleep, eat a less-than-ideal diet, feel stressed out, and get cold and wet. All of these factors can lower your immune system and increase your chance of getting an infection.
Your immune system is also affected by your metabolism, nutritional status, and overall health. So do environmental factors, such as how you live, how often you travel, and what type of sports you play. Being mentally stressed out, not getting enough nutrients, and losing weight too quickly can also impact your immune system.
Train, but don’t overtrain. Exercise, but don’t over-exercise.
How To Exercise for Immunity
Training correctly is one factor to support your immune system and lower inflammation. But that goes beyond your fitness routine to include:
Exercise: Training Right for a Healthy Immune System
To lower inflammation, support your immune system, and reduce your disease risk, you want the correct type of exercise.
Overall, exercising under an hour with a steady-state intensity doesn’t put much strain on your immune system compared with prolonged, high-intensity sessions.
You don’t need a lot of exercise to get the health benefits. One study found that a 20-minute session of moderate exercise could normalize the immune response and lower inflammation. Even a brisk walk can benefit you.
Health Benefits of Different Exercise Types
What type of exercise you do depends on your preferences, health requirements, and what you will actually stick to. Exercise options include:
- Aerobic exercise can help improve your heart health and help you lose weight.
- With high-intensity interval training, you alternate exercising at high intensity with less-intense activity. This reduces the time you need to exercise.
- Strength training can support muscle strength. You improve stability in joints and daily activities can become easier.
- Flexibility exercises can give you an optimal range of motion for your joints to promote stability and reduce your risk of falls.
Recovery is Key to Exercise
Regardless of what type you choose, recovery is crucial to training right. The right recovery can further help lower inflammation and support your immune system.
Giving your body proper rest to repair after exercise can lower delayed onset muscle soreness, fatigue, muscle damage, and inflammatory markers. In fact, allowing your body to rest through recovery actually allows your muscles to become stronger.
Schedule in rest days that focus on active recovery between workouts. You’ll find you likely perform better at the gym. You have less achiness and other post-exercise symptoms that can be signs of inflammation and an out-of-balance immune system.
Stretching, massage, heat therapy, and cold therapy are among the best ways to recover after exercise. So are good sleep, stress management, the right nutrients, an active social life, and finding something that relaxes you, like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
When you don’t focus on recovery, you increase your risk of burnout, injury, increasing inflammation, and much more.
Like with most things in life, balance becomes key to getting all the benefits of exercise. Along with the right diet and lifestyle factors, fitting in a good workout for 20 – 30 minutes a few times a week will support your immune system, lower inflammation, reduce your disease risk, and provide all the many other benefits of regular exercise.