How familiar are you with your immune system? Just like other parts of your body, your immune system can be affected by how well you support it.
In recent years, research has revealed that the amount and type of exercise can influence — even negatively influence — the function of our immune system.
This article will help you understand your immune system in more detail, and what kind of exercise YOU should do to help your immune system stay strong.
How your immune system works
The immune system performs a wide variety of functions. Some of the factors that influence the functioning of your immune system include your age, gender, eating habits, medical status and fitness level.
Your skin is one of the largest parts of your immune system. It is the first line of defense. It acts as a barrier to all things in the world that can harm our body and make us sick such as bacteria and viruses.
White blood cells are another vital part of our immune system. They circulate in our body and communicate with one another. Hormones and cytokines are also important. They help initiate immune system defenses.
These immune system helps:
- Fight colds and flu
- Deal with bacteria and viruses we come in contact with
- Target and fight “bad” cells that form in our body (ie. cells that mutate and could be cancerous)
When your immune system is not in balance or is not functioning correctly, health problems can appear. For example, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are considered to be autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system may attack a part of the body.
Another example is prolonged inflammation. Inflammation is a component of the immune system and is considered a response to stress. When you experience inflammation it can be an indicator the immune system is doing its job, by getting the white blood cells and other components geared up for work. Initially, inflammation is a good thing.
But if the inflammation persists for too long, it can be bad. Research is showing how inflammation is associated with chronic disease, including heart disease, and with metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
How exercise affects the immune system
How does exercise affect your immune system? There is no easy answer, but there are many findings coming to the forefront. Researches have seemed to focus on two general questions:
- What does a single exercise session do to the immune system?
- What does regular exercise do to the immune system?
Keep in mind that exercise is a form of stress on our body. We know that a single session of physical activity has a temporary affect on our immune system. The stress response caused by a single session depends on how fit we are and how hard we exercise during the session.
Here are some findings about single session workouts:
Fast immune response
It has been found that even after a session of moderate intensity exercise (ie. 30 minutes involving heavy breathing and light sweating) the immune system can change. More white blood cells will circulate and some will function differently. For this type of workout, you will see no real instant benefit or detriment to the immune system.
High intensity workouts
If exercise intensity is very high and done for a long period of time (ie. over an hour), it can be strenuous to the body. This may include triathlon training or any bootcamp/crossfit type of workout done for over 30 minutes.
Like any stress on the body, the immune system will respond. This taxing of the body can make aspects of the immune system not function properly. Athletes who train hard may be more likely to be at risk for colds after heavy training or competitions.
Athletes who train hard may be more likely to be at risk for colds after heavy training or competitions.
Returning to normal
Research has also found that after an exercise session the immune system begins returning to normal within one hour. This can take longer if the work out is long duration and high intensity.
It is during the “Immune Recovery” phase that athletes are more susceptible to colds. So it is important to take precaution the hour after working out.
The impact of regular exercise
Regular exercise research findings about regular exercise are also interesting:
- Those who exercise regularly have slight differences in their immune systems compared to those who don’t exercise regularly.
- These differences have many protective benefits for our body and within the immune system itself.
- A major difference is a decrease in prolonged inflammation for those that exercise regularly (.i.e, this decrease in inflammation can help play a role in the prevention of heart disease and diabetes).
Researchers have also found that for those who exercise regularly, the immune system has an adapted response. This indicates the immune system has adapted to regular exercise similar to the muscles adapting to exercises.
Conclusion: Get a boost from moderate, regular exercise
It is fair to say that research has shown that regular, moderate physical activity can be beneficial to your immune system. Our R-Fit program, for example, is tailored to give you moderate intensity workouts on a consistent schedule.
Here are suggestions based on your specific exercise needs.
New to exercise
If you are just beginning to exercise, here are some tips to keep your immune system working properly:
- Take your time. Your immune system will need time to adapt to regular exercise.
- Work in the yellow range of your MYZONE.
- Start at a duration and intensity level you can easily manage. Keep it under 30 minutes.
For those that exercise regularly, here are a few pointers:
- Light and moderate exercise won’t be harmful, and in some cases may make you feel better when you are feeling under the weather.
- It is okay to have a heavy workout, but it’s not necessary to do a heavy workout every day. Your immune system needs a chance to rest and return to a normal state.
For athletes and those who train hard (high intensity for over 30 minutes):
- When you are following a heavy training regime, keep an eye on your health (ie. Watch for signs of feeling worn out or cold/flu symptoms) Try to minimize other risk factors for colds and viruses.
- Research has shown that consuming complex carbohydrates before a heavy training session may help ward off drastic immune changes, making you less susceptible to colds.
- Vitamin C and L glutamine has shown to ward off drastic immune changes.
For more tips on the immune system and other health information, follow along with our Reset blog!
– Dr. Kory Pohlman, a Reset Provider
Dr. Kory has extensive studies in the strength and conditioning field. He yields one of the highest credentials with the CSCS. He is also one of the founders of Kosama Body transformation franchise. Among his doctorate he also holds a minor in Chemistry. He is a holder of a national patent on an herbal natural painkiller. Dr. Kory is also a Doctor of Chiropractic in the Reset Whole Body Health Clinic.