The Importance of Exercise for a Healthy and Strong Immune System

During times of uncertainty when life is constantly evolving, it can be difficult to know what you can do to stay healthy. Although social distancing and staying at home are the best practices, it is just as important nowadays to find ways to move your body and exercise.

As long as you follow social distancing guidelines, going on walks, bike rides, hikes, and other outdoor activities are safe and recommended. As I will discuss, it will help you not only strengthen your muscles and bones but your immune system as well.

Exercise immunology is a relatively new area of research, with most of the studies coming out in the past 30 years; these studies have proven that the immune system is very responsive to exercise. The best kind? Moderate to vigorous exercise for a duration of 30-60 minutes. This stimulates the exchange of active immune cells between your blood and tissues, including immunoglobulins, anti-inflammatory cytokines, neutrophils, natural kill cells, T and B cells.

Doing this type of exercise regularly has a summation effect on your immune system, meaning that if you maintain a consistent workout schedule of 3-5 times per week, it will enhance your immune defense activity in the long run (no pun intended).

The proof? Randomized clinical trials have repeatedly demonstrated the relationship between consistent moderate exercise and decreased incidence of illness. Several studies also show that regular physical activity can decrease incidence rates of influenza and pneumonia 1.

However, keep in mind that moderation is key. Extreme exercise training programs have been correlated with decreased immune cell metabolic capacity, negatively affecting the immune system for a range of several hours up to several days. One study looked at 2,311 runners who competed in the LA marathon, and showed that 13% of the endurance athletes reported illness the week afterward. Other studies have shown athletes in heavy training are at increased risk of developing an upper respiratory tract infection. This just means that although you may have more time to work out, it’s not necessarily the time to go all in. Keeping exercise at a consistent and moderate is perfect for boosting your immune system along with a healthy diet and adequate sleep1.

This concept is especially important for those experiencing immunosenescence, which is the gradual decline of the immune system because of natural aging. Immunosenescence has been associated with infections, autoimmune diseases, and metabolic diseases. However, evidence has shown that regular exercise can thwart the onset of immunosenescence during the aging process. In fact, one study showed that women aged 70+ who were active in endurance events had significantly higher levels of immune system supporting cells compared with women of the same age who were sedentary1.

In summary, regular physical activity at a moderately challenging level of intensity and duration will help give your immune system a boost. If you’re already going on regular walks, hikes, or bike rides, keep it up! You can also find many exercise programs offered online or streaming through your local gym.

We at JCPT applaud your motivation and understanding of self-care especially during the current covid-19 pandemic. Do what you find the most rewarding and fun for your chosen activity. Just be safe, and avoid crowded trails or paths. If you feel confused about how to start or maintain an effective exercise regime during these trying times, feel free to reach out. We offer both in person and telehealth options for consultation and guidance.

Heal Your Body, Strengthen Your Life.
Your friends at Jackson County Physical Therapy