Exercise and the Immune System
- Posted on: May 19 2020
Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. In the short term, exercise can help the immune system find and deal with pathogens, and in the long term, regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with ageing, therefore reducing the risk of infections. Regular moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, running or cycling is recommended, with the aim of achieving 150 minutes per week.
The question as to how exercise can help reduce the likelihood of contracting a disease is answered by multiple different factors that go on after or during our body is undergoing exercise. Physical activity helps flush bacteria out of our lungs and airways. Exercise also causes change in antibodies and white blood cells, which are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies and white blood cells circulate more rapidly, so they can detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. Additionally, the brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and help the body fight infection better. Lastly, exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Because stress increases the chance of illness, lowering these stress hormones may protect against illness.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important now than ever to ensure we are doing all we can to improve our immune health. Exercise is especially beneficial for older adults who are more susceptible to infection in general and have also been identified as a particularly vulnerable population during this COVID-19 outbreak. Lastly, note that in order to reduce the likelihood of contracting a disease such as coronavirus, we need to ensure we are social distancing while exercising as well. Exercising in a crowded gym or park puts an individual at risk of contracting any disease, regardless of the benefits of exercise on the immune system. Ask your physical therapist if you have specific questions regarding an exercise program that would work well for you and your body!
Posted in: Physical Therapy