If you want to maintain a healthy immune response, you may want to lace up your sneakers and get up off the couch.
That’s the advice of public health experts, although it does come with a warning: Extremely strenuous athletic activity has long been thought to temporarily suppress immunity―although even that belief has been challenged by recent studies.
Here’s what you need to know.
How Does Exercise Affect the Immune System?†
Scientists have found the following links between physical activity and immunity:
Exercise Helps Put Immune Cells on Guard―The immune system’s various cells and substances circulate more freely and become more vigilant after workouts.
Exercise Benefits the Gut Microbiome―The key to having healthy probiotic microbes, which interact with immune cells in the intestines, lies in the diversity of microorganism species found there; exercise appears to promote such diversity.
Exercise Helps Reduce Stress―Numerous studies have found links between stress and weakened immunity.
Exercise Helps Improve Sleep―Researchers have found links between poor sleep and increased risk of upper respiratory infections. Physical activity helps you sleep better; just don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
Can Prolonged Heavy Exercise Decrease Immunity?
Scientists have long known of a link between long, hard workouts (an hour or more) and a temporary dip in markers of immune response. This was seen as opening a window of opportunity for infectious microbes to attack the body.
However, recent research has challenged that idea. The authors of these studies note that, among other factors, competitions such as marathons are mass-participation events, which can in themselves increase infection risk simply because such events bring together large numbers of people.†
And if you aren’t an elite athlete participating in frequent large-scale competitions? You shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Simply take common sense precautions against exposure to microbes, such as keeping your distance from others.†
How Much Should I Exercise?
The key is engaging in some exercise nearly every day. Trying to make up for a week’s worth of playing couch potato by exercising for hours on the weekend won’t work...and will leave you more prone to injury as well.
“Exercise” in this case means aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping and your lungs working a little harder. Try walking briskly for between 30 and 60 minutes at least six days a week.
Resistance training, such as lifting weights, helps build strong muscles and bones, which makes engaging in regular aerobic activity easier. Schedule resistance workouts two or three times a week.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.