Exercise and the Immune System

Exercise prentjie vir Vrydag

Exercise makes you strong, beautiful and agile.  How wonderful to add that it strengthens your immune system and boosts your resistance to disease.

A team of researchers from Brazil, published a powerful article in the journal Clinical and Experimental Medicine on the immune system, respiratory viral infection and exercise.  They remind us that acute viral infection is the main infectious disease in the world and one of our great challenges in life.  Even though this is not only relevant to what we know as COVID-19, because of their time of writing and the focus in terms of viral infection was SARS-Cov2, the virus involved in COVID-19.  They go on to talk about SARS-Cov2 and its similarities to SARS and MERS, other Corona viruses.  When corona virus infections get out of hand, they find an overshoot inflammatory reaction (aka cytokine storm) while the immune cells that should be fighting off the viral infection is low.  This is where exercise comes into play.  Exercise and regular physical activity has been shown over and over again to calm down inflammatory cytokines while boosting the powerful immune cells we need to fight off viral infections.  Powerful immune cells on the one hand and calm on the side of chronic inflammation is exactly where you want to be if you want to keep yourself protected against serious complications in acute viral infections, such as acute coronavirus infections, influenza and other respiratory infections.

This is not to say you should exercise while you are ill, definitely not. You need to rest if you have any sign of a cold or a flu-like illness until you are fully recovered. But as prevention and part of your lifestyle to support your powerful built-in immune system, you need to exercise regularly.

While activity boosts your resistance to disease, inactivity weakens the immune system.  In a study on Community-Acquired Pneumonia in the US, they found that women that were more active were less likely to get Pneumonia.  Exercise and being active increased the women’s resistance to developing pneumonia. Another group of researchers from the USA investigated the effect of moderate exercise on the immune system in a period as short as 6 weeks. They found measurable positive changes that would improve resistance to disease significantly.

The effect of exercise is so powerful that it can enhance the antibody response to certain influenza vaccines, according to researchers from the Iowa State University.  For vaccines to be effective, the immune system needs to react.  The immune system’s ability to react slows down with age and has been shown to be especially lower from 65 onwards, which is also by far the greatest group of people in danger from any acute respiratory infection, be it influenza, rhinovirus infection, corona virus infection or any of the around 200 other respiratory viruses.  In the same age-group, the efficacy of the influenza vaccines is often lower than in younger groups, simply due to the power of the immune system being lower as we age.  Thankfully, we are not defenceless against this immune system dampening with age. Exercise has been shown by the Iowa State University researchers to boost the power of the immune system so much that they could measure the effect in the antibody reaction to the vaccine.  This means, that even as we age, with exercise and regular activity we can powerfully strengthen our immune systems and boost our defence against disease.

The advantage of boosting your immune system with exercise, is that you also boost other health systems. Your circulation improves, weight-management becomes easier, you sleep better, feel more relaxed, your lymphatic system is more efficient at detoxification, aches and pains tend to be less and your mood-stability benefits.

Still, I do need to mention here that as humans, we can take practices to all extremes. Even though our more prevalent problem worldwide is inactivity, over-activity or over-training can also suppress the immune system significantly.  I have had patients who train seven days a week, getting up at 4:00 in the morning and still work a full time job.  This scenario certainly does not empower the immune system. It weakens your immune system if you live this way.  Take care if you know yourself to be an extreme athlete.  You need to pace yourself and take some time off for recovery, otherwise you damage your immune system.

How exciting, that we can strengthen our immune systems while otherwise gaining so much from regular exercise.  If you feel you are exercising regularly and looking after yourself well, but still don’t see the health benefits you would expect to see such as being your happy weight, feeling energetic, and generally enjoying great health, make contact with me to see if I can support you on your journey to feeling fabulous.  You can reach me at hester@embracelifewithhester.com

Happy exercising!

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