Your Immune System + Physical Activity
March 8, 2017
The immune system is our body’s natural defense system. This intricate network of cells, tissues, and organs works hard every day, protecting us against infectious microorganisms, ranging from cancer to the common cold. But through a series of steps called the immune response, sometimes our bodies become weak, and can’t fight off every invader, making us sick. 1
So, you’re probably wondering, especially after many of us have been hit with terrible flus and colds this winter: how can we make our immune systems stronger? You can give yourself a boost by taking vitamins and herbal supplements, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, reducing stress and one of the biggest pillars, regular exercise.
Exercise improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects us against a variety of infections and certain cancers. It promotes good circulation, which allows cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. And it also releases endorphins, natural hormones that affect the brain in positive ways, easing pain and promoting a sense of relaxation and wellbeing – all of which relieve stress and help you sleep better. 2, 3
So, which types of exercise should you be doing?
- Aerobic Exercise — These fast paced activities such as running, hiking, cycling and rowing increase your heart rate, build muscle, and make you breathe faster and harder, improving lung capacity.
- Strength/Resistance Training — This can involve barbells, weight plates, dumbbells, or resistance bands and often consists of focused, isometric reps that bring strength to one muscle group at a time.
- Flexibility Exercise — This category includes stretching, foam rolling, yoga, Thai Chi, and pilates — anything that enables you to lengthen and elongate hard-worked muscles. 3
The ideal routine involves all three fitness categories that you can work at your own level, slowly increasing over time.
However, while it's beneficial to give your immune system a boost through physical activity, too much exercise can actually cause one’s immune system to weaken. Be gentle with yourself, and allow your body to rest between workouts. It’s recommended that we work out 3 to 5 days per week for 20-60 minutes at 55%-65% of maximal heart rate.
And don’t forget that exercise can be fun! Try doing something you love like dancing, walking your dog, or doing yoga on the beach. The happier you are when physically active, the more it will benefit your cells.
“The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.” – Deepak Chopra