Regular exercise is one of the important tenants of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, improves mental health and protects against a variety of diseases. But what about immune health?
There are a number of factors that affect the health of your immune system. Factors such as diet, quality of sleep, and stress all play a big role in immune health. But one of the easiest ways to strengthen your immune system is through regular exercise. Exercise benefits the immune system in many ways. It allows immune cells to perform effectively – it does this by increasing blood flow, reducing stress and inflammation, and through strengthening antibodies. Exercise can also help clear bacteria out of your airways and cause a brief elevation in body temperature which may be protective from infections.
Because exercise is known to reduce inflammation, it causes immune cells to perform more effectively, allowing the immune system to perform at its optical functional level. Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise is linked to lower levels of upper respiratory tract infections, including viruses like the flu and the common cold. A 2018 study from China found that people who exercised at least three times a week reduced their chances of getting a cold by 26%. A 2018 study from the UK showed that exercise provides both short and long-term benefits for the immune system. In the short-term, exercise can help the immune system find and deal with harmful pathogens, while in the long-term, regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with ageing, therefore reducing the risk of infections.
So how much exercise should you be getting? And what sort of exercise? In general, governments usually recommend that healthy adults should get around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. According to the CDC, this includes activities such as walking, yoga, gardening and bicycling. The authors of the 2018 study from the UK recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week, including walking, running and cycling. However, the authors state that longer, more rigorous exercise will not have any harmful effects on the immune system, as is often thought by people. Their study concluded that intense exercise is not strongly linked to increased levels of infections, and that infections are more likely to be linked to inadequate diet, psychological stress, insufficient sleep, travel and importantly, pathogen exposure at social gathering events.
Regardless of the type and intensity of exercise you choose, even just 10 minutes of walking a day can boost your mood, improve your cardiovascular health, reduce stress and benefit your all-important immune system. Combine regular exercise with a healthy and balanced diet and quality sleep, and you will be well on your way to keeping your immune health tip-top.