Working out may be the secret to fighting off colds and other illnesses, according to a recent study. Researchers found that by repeatedly stressing your body through exercise, you could actually be strengthening your immune system.
Scientists at Chosun University in Gqangju, South Korea wanted to learn what effects exercise might have on the body’s immune response. The scientists conducted an animal study which revealed that exercise lowered pro-inflammatory cells, reduced fat and increased production of a potent type of antimicrobial immune cell that directly kills germs. The study also revealed that the stress exercises places on the body through small amounts of continuous tissue damage and inflammation actually works to familiarize the body with trauma and how to initiate healing.
As a result, researchers concluded that exercise strengthens the body’s immune response and potentially prevents or mitigates infectious disease.
Can exercise improve immunity in other ways?
There are several other theories about how exercise might improve immunity. Some of these theories are:
• Physical activity flushes bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing risk of developing a cold, flu or other airborne illness.
• Exercise causes white blood cells to circulate more rapidly, which may result in an earlier detection of illness and faster response by the immune system.
• Physical activity causes a brief rise in body temperature, which may prevent bacteria from growing and may help the body fight infection more effectively (similar to having a fever).
• Exercise slows the release of stress-related hormones, which may increase chance of illness.
How much exercise is needed to give your immune system a boost?
If you aren’t used to working out, don’t start training for a marathon tomorrow just to improve your immune system. Doing so may actually weaken your immunity. Research suggests that people who go from a sedentary lifestyle to being moderately active get the most benefit from an exercise program. Examples of moderate exercise include:
• Taking a daily 30-minute walk
• Going for a bicycle ride a few times a week
• Participating in a group exercise class three times a week.
Is it healthy to exercise if you’re already sick?
If exercise boosts your immune system, can working out speed recovery when you’re already sick?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, mild to moderate exercise is not harmful to people experiencing symptoms of the common cold without fever. Though it isn’t necessarily harmful, there also isn’t evidence that exercise can make you feel better if you are already sick, and high-intensity exercise may actually make you feel worse if you’re fighting a bug.
Let your body be your guide. If you do exercise while you are sick and find your symptoms worsening, reduce the intensity or duration of your workout, or take a break from exercise until you are well.