How Does Exercise Boost Your Immune System?
Exercise and health are inextricably linked. Without at least a moderate exercise program, your health can decline surprisingly rapidly. It's not just your heart and lungs -- every organ in your body benefits when you exercise.
Many people are surprised to learn of the connection between a healthy immune system and exercise. You may be wondering: "How exactly does exercise boost the immune system?" What is the specific link between exercise and immune system health? It comes down to the circulation of immune cells around your body.
There are several different types of cells that the body produces to tackle infections. If you don't exercise, the cells responsible for fighting pathogens tend to remain in your lymphoid tissues, as well as organs such as the spleen. These locations are where your body kills off potential invaders -- microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungal spores. In most people, only a small percentage of these cells are circulated in the blood.
To get the most out of your immune system, you need to get more of these immune cells circulating in your blood. This makes it easier for your immune system to recognize pathogens before they can get a foothold in your body. To be more specific, you need your body to circulate more of its specialized infection-fighting cells, such as T-cells and natural killer cells.
One of the main benefits of exercise is that it boosts blood circulation to all of your organs. This includes all the places in the body that are especially rich in immune cells. When you increase your circulation's efficiency, you naturally increase the proportion of immune cells circulating in your blood. Exercise also increases activity in the lymphatic system, encouraging still more immune cells to move around the body and increasing the chance that an infection will be picked up and countered.
You don't need to hit the gym or undertake hours of grueling training. A 2019 study found that participants had higher levels of vital immune cells in their blood after just a 45-minute walk.
The Benefits of Daily Exercise
There is a catch, however. To reap the immune-health benefits of exercise, you will need to engage in cardiovascular exercise regularly. Over time, the number of immune cells in your blood will slowly decrease until the next exercise session gets them moving again. If you don't maintain a regular regime of exercise, you won't get the full benefit.
The benefits of cardio exercise, taken daily or at least every other day, extend well beyond the immune system. Some of the most typical types of infection are those affecting the respiratory tract. These include familiar conditions like common colds and influenza. With a cold or a bout of flu comes the risk of secondary infections like bronchitis. If you engage in regular exercise, you can reduce the incidence of colds by 40 percent. This also lowers your risk of developing further infections. By increasing the amount of work that your lungs need to do, you make them more efficient and ensure that infections don't settle in your chest.
Staying Active when Isolated
While the current pandemic times that we live in have required increased social isolation and quarantining as measures to stay safe, a detrimental aspect of this is that our levels of physical activity have gone down significantly. Unfortunately, this runs counter to the reason why we take these safety measures in the first place. In the current situation, it is even more vital that we continue to remain physically active by implementing a daily schedule of physical activity at home and indoors, as necessary. This will ensure that our immune system remains physically fit and alert to fend off any challenges it faces. In this way, exercise is a key supportive measure that enhances the other safety measures we take during the pandemic. Another side benefit is that regular exercise enhances our mood and wellbeing, which contributes to staying mentally fit and motivated during these trying times.
Exercise is the key to good health. No single lifestyle change can fully protect you against infections, however. If you want to get the most out of your exercise program, you should also ensure that you take other steps to stay in good condition. This means eating a healthy diet and staying properly hydrated. You should also make sure you get a good night's sleep every night, as a lack of quality sleep can have a negative effect on all aspects of your health (including immune function). Keep your alcohol consumption at a moderate level and avoid tobacco. Taken together, all these measures can help you beat infections and stay healthy all year round.