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By reducing your stress and eating a healthy diet, you can strengthen your immune system. However, physical activity also strengthens your immune system, promoting overall health.
Of course, there are times when putting on your shoes and going for a run feels like the last thing you want to do. But simply increasing your physical activity can give you a potent weapon against infection. The problem? Not all physical activity is beneficial to your immune system.
Health consulted with specialists who have investigated exercise’s impact on the immune system to clarify the relationship between exercise and immunity. Here’s how to maximise your exercise for overall health.
Exercise can boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, and lower your risk of getting sick, according to a 2019 scientific review published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.
In the study, “acute exercise” was defined as moderate to vigorous activity lasting under an hour. (The study primarily focused on walking, which can also refer to elliptical training, spin classes, or even running.)
According to David Nieman, DrPH, study author and director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory, most people have a relatively small number of immune cells circulating throughout their bodies. These cells prefer to reside in lymphoid organs and tissues, such as the spleen.
Dr. Nieman explained that since exercise increases blood and lymph flow as your muscles contract, it also increases the circulation of immune cells, which causes them to roam the body more frequently and in greater numbers. Exercise specifically aids in the recruitment of highly specialised immune cells that hunt down and eliminate pathogens (such as viruses), such as natural killer cells and T cells.
Participants who went on a 45-minute brisk walk in Dr. Nieman’s 2019 review noticed an increase in immune cells floating around the body for up to three hours after the walk.
Exercise triggers an immediate immune response, but unless you continue working out regularly, that response will eventually wear off. The following day, if you exercise for 45 minutes outside, everything happens again, according to Dr. Nieman. “With time, everything adds up.”
Those who engaged in aerobic exercise five or more days per week experienced a more than 40% reduction in upper respiratory tract infections (like the common cold) over the course of a 12-week period, according to another study by Dr. Nieman and his team.
In 2022, analysis of 16 studies of individuals who continued to engage in physical activity throughout the pandemic was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Exercise was linked to a lower risk of infection and a lower chance of developing severe COVID-19, according to the study’s findings. People from all over the world who exercised frequently had a 43% lower risk of dying from COVID-19 and a 36% lower risk of being hospitalised for the disease.