Can Exercise Boost Immunity?
If you’ve been out of action for a few days this Winter with a cold, you’ll know how annoying even a minor illness can be.
And how long it can take to shake.
We all want to feel better and get the most out of life! And a big part of that is managing our lifestyle to minimise the amount of time we’re down and out with illness.
One of the most exciting shifts in healthcare in recent years is that we can take action to protect ourselves for a range of diseases – both minor and more serious.
Why is it that some people never get sick, while others seem to spend all of Winter under the weather? The answer is complex, but there are some things you can do to actively boost your immunity.
We’ve learnt that more rest is not always the answer.
Our inclination when we’re under the weather is to stay away from the gym and hide under a doona. But regular exercise, of the right type and intensity, has been shown to help prevent illness by boosting immunity.
What is immunity?
Immunity is loosely defined as the balanced state of the cells/cellular organisms in the body having biological defences in place to fight off infection or disease.
We have two components of the immune system: the innate and the adaptive systems. The innate system is programmed to recognise foreign substances entering our body and immediately attack them. Our adaptive system is more complicated, and is programmed to recognise self-substances and initiate various defensive mechanisms.
Can exercise make a difference?
Physical inactivity can increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and many more. The process of how this occurs can be in the presence or absence of abdominal/visceral adiposity (increased fat around the organs). Extra fat around the organs can lead to chronic systemic inflammation. This results in common conditions such as insulin resistance and atherosclerosis, which ultimately cause the nastier diseases mentioned above.
Exercise improves body composition by increasing muscle and decreasing fat. More importantly, it reduces abdominal adiposity, which ultimately reduces the risk of developing a host of chronic diseases.
However, we now know that chronic systemic inflammation can occur in the absence of increases in abdominal adiposity. So if you’re someone who doesn’t have a significant accumulation of fat around your organs, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from the effects of chronic systemic inflammation.
Studies conducted over 3, 6 and 12-month periods comparing groups of people exercising with non-exercise groups showed that those exercising 3-5 times a week for 30-45 minutes had lower inflammatory markers.
It’s interesting to note that only some people reduced their visceral fat, but all of the exercisers showed improvements in their immune system.
So how much and what type of exercise is enough to boost your immunity?
The research and guidelines tell us that we need to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week.
Physical activity doesn’t only mean structured exercise like going to the gym, it can also be a brisk walk, or incidental exercise like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. So, the main thing is to get moving and move consistently. Work family walks into everyone’s schedule, take the stairs whenever you get the opportunity and get into the gym whenever you can.
Start now and by next Winter, your immunity will be firing on all cylinders.