Exercise helps us improve our mood, sleep more soundly, maintain a healthy weight, and have more energy. Regular exercise can also support our immune system as it fights viruses, bacteria, and other harmful microorganisms known as pathogens.
Our immune system is a sophisticated defense network against potential threats. The system consists of specialized cells, tissues, and proteins that identify and eliminate harmful invaders.
The immune response has two main phases. The first is the innate immune response. This immediate but nonspecific defense identifies common markers on the pathogens. The second response is the adaptive immune response. This targeted response recognizes specific antigens (a toxin or foreign substance that prompts the production of antibodies) and provides a tailored counterattack. The innate response works to fight pathogens before they can start an infection. When the innate response isn’t enough, it works together with the adaptive response.
Older age, obesity, poor diet, chronic diseases, chronic mental and physical stress, lack of quality sleep, and environmental toxins (such as air pollution or excessive alcohol) decrease the efficiency of the immune system.
Thankfully, we don’t have to accept the immune response we are currently experiencing. We can build and maintain a robust immune system through regular exercise. Moderate and consistent physical activity promotes the circulation of immune cells and proteins. This enhances effectiveness and helps alleviate chronic inflammation.
Whether it’s brisk jogging, resistance training, or yoga, incorporating at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly can yield significant benefits. No matter how many sessions, or their length, you’ll find that this level of physical activity not only supports the body’s defense systems but also helps manage stress, another key factor that influences immune health.
Stress triggers the release of “stress hormones” like cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol can reduce production of immune cells and antibodies. It can alter the behavior of immune cells by shifting them into a less effective state. This reduces their ability to recognize and respond to threats, as well as inhibit inflammation. Inflammation is a natural part of our immune response and excess cortisol can suppress this process and slow down the body’s ability to fight infection. Chronically elevated cortisol also interferes with the communication between immune cells, diminishing their ability to coordinate responses.
A well-rounded routine that includes a mix of aerobic exercises, strength training, and flexibility can reduce stress while building and supporting a robust immune system. Aerobic exercises, like cycling or dancing, will improve cardiovascular health. As blood circulation increases, the circulation of immune cells also increases. Strength, or resistance, training increases lean muscle mass and stimulates the production of immune-supporting proteins. Flexibility exercises, such as stretching or yoga, promote better posture and joint mobility. This reduces the risk of injury that might compromise efficient immune function. While exercise is a valuable immune-boosting tool, avoid overexertion. Excessive or intense exercise can have the opposite effect and suppress immune function.
By adopting a consistent and well-balanced exercise routine, we can nurture our immune systems and foster long-term improved health.