From improved sleep and circulation to reduced anxiety and more, regular exercise boosts immunity and strengthens the body’s defense against illness.
How Exercise Strengthens the Immune System
As we confront the difficult, enduring nature of COVID-19, finding long-term habits of immunity is becoming more important than ever. By now, we’re getting pretty good at social distancing, mask wearing, and handwashing.
But what else can you do to strengthen and vitalize your immune system? Exercise. In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, participants who exercised for 20 minutes or more at least five days per week experienced 43 percent fewer cases of infection in their upper respiratory tract than those who were sedentary. They also had milder symptoms when they did get sick. Many similar studies repeatedly find that getting the blood flowing strengthens the body’s defense against illness.
Effects of Exercise on the Immune System
More blood circulation means cleaner blood. Not only does the heart provide life-giving oxygen to the body, but it also plays a role in fighting infection and neutralizing toxins. Immune cells, also known as white blood cells, continuously circulate the body and ward off potential bacteria and viruses.
When we increase our heart rate, our heart pumps blood faster and circulates these immune cells through our system faster, giving them more chances to locate and dispose of threats. This increased circulation also encourages the body to produce even more immune cells, which consequently strengthens our ability to manage dangerous bacteria and viruses. After a moderate period of increased heart rate, the body enjoys a boost to the immune system for a few hours.
While any single instance of this boost may be fleeting, a daily habit of exercise will repeat this process, thereby cleansing your system on a daily basis.
Indirect Benefits of Exercise for the Immune System
In addition to increasing the strength of your immune system, exercise provides a host of other positive side effects that also lower your chances of getting sick.
Exercise correlates with reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep quality, and reducing fat and cholesterol content in the body, all of which support the immune system in their own way.
There are many benefits to being active—and not just to help boost your immune system. As a general rule, people who sustain habits of regular exercise have happier bodies and happier lives.
Just Do It!—But Don’t Overdo It
While regular exercise can strengthen your immune system and enhance your overall health, you need to be careful to not strain yourself.
Per the old adage: “It is not requisite that a man [or woman] should run faster than he [or she] has strength.” Making high demands on your energy without supplying the necessary sleep and nutrition can do you more harm than good.
The benefits of exercise come most abundantly when paired with other healthy routines of balance and nourishment. If you push yourself too hard, your body may lack the energy it needs to support your immune system.
Exercising for Immune Health During the Pandemic
Currently, with the danger the pandemic presents, you should also be careful about how and where you exercise.
Certain kinds of exercise make maintaining social distance more difficult. For these reasons, a walk or a jog in the park, or some time in nature, may be a better option than attempting to go to a gym or a health club.
Dr. James Turner, who recently studied exercise and immune function, says: “People should not overlook the importance of staying fit, active, and healthy during this period. Provided it is carried out in isolation—away from others—then regular, daily exercise will help better maintain the way the immune system works.”
The Bottom Line: Get to Boost Your Health
Our bodies crave exercise. The body rewards you with more peace of mind and better health when you give it what it needs.
In this time of fear and worry, you should heed the subtle hints your body gives you and give it what it needs.
Read about the hidden benefits of exercise.