How Exercise Boosts Your Immune System

Last updated on : November 02 2020

A woman getting exercise walking up steps

This article looks at both the direct and indirect impact that exercise has on our immune system. 

It concludes that exercise positively boosts our immune responses, reduces our risk to disease and infection, and improves our mental and emotional health

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Exercises Direct Impact On Immune System

Experts do not know exactly if or how exercise directly increases our immunity to certain illnesses. There are several theories. However, none of these theories is proven yet. Some of the ideas include:

  • Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This flushing out may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
  • Exercise causes a change in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body's immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
  • The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness, and lower stress hormones may protect against disease and infection.

We know that exercise makes us feel better and reduces our risk of certain diseases. As a result, we can say that exercise has an indirect impact on our immune system capabilities.

Exercises Indirect Impact On Our Immune System

Exercise reduces the risk of disease and infection, and so we can say it has an indirect and positive impact on our immune system. 

Here are three arguments that support exercises indirect boost of our immune system.  

1. Physical Activity Promotes Health And Longevity

Being physically inactive increases your risks of developing diseases and infections. In comparison, studies show that being physically active promotes health and longevity. 

A. Mortality rates drop by about 20-35% in men and women who increase their physical activity.

B. Exercise is the most common therapy prescribed for health issues. For example, exercise significantly improves obesity, varicose veins, sleep deprivation, excess cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even libido loss.

C.. Studies show that people who exercise have improved control of inflammation in the body, decreased fats, improved oxygenation, and enhanced innate immune function.

D. There is also the secretion of IL-6 during moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise. Interleukin-6 or IL-6 is a cytokine that plays a role in defending the body.

2. Exercise Lowers The Risk To Many Diseases

The common diseases influenced by exercise are as follows:

A. Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. 

A sedentary lifestyle is a modifiable risk of cardiovascular disease, and with the help of exercise, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease decreases significantly. 

Studies show that people engaging with endurance training were associated with lower levels of triglycerides and higher levels of high-density lipoproteins. These two factors result in a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 

Exercise is also associated with lower blood pressures as people who are regularly exercising pump more blood in one beat than those who do not exercise. 

The heart remodels to compensate for the body's requirements during exercise, resulting in better heart health and lower blood pressure. 

B. Diabetes

Another disease affected by exercise is diabetes mellitus. Impaired insulin sensitivity is a lifestyle disease. 

Exercise is one way to prevent the development or delay the progression of diabetes mellitus. 

The initial treatment for diabetes mellitus is a lifestyle change. Doctors often suggest improving diet and exercise, and patients who exercise see enhanced glycemic control and insulin sensitivity.

As a result, increased physical activity results in prevention and decreased risk of diabetes.

C. Obesity

The CDC states that fifty-five to sixty-five percent of adult Americans are overweight, while twenty-two percent are obese.

Studies show that routine exercise improves body composition through reduced abdominal fat deposition and improved weight control.

Exercise is also the first-line therapy for those who are overweight and obese. 

The risk from many diseases, including high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, reduce significantly with proper weight control.

D. Stroke

Globally, one of the leading causes of death and disability is cerebrovascular accidents.

A cerebrovascular accident, or more commonly known as stroke, is a sudden loss of blood supply in the brain. 

Stroke is a preventable disease. Diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and obesity are risk factors that may increase the chance of having a stroke

When we exercise, we reduce the risk factors for these diseases and, consequently, for a stroke. 

Additionally, exercise reduces systemic inflammation, bad cholesterol, and blood clotting, further decreasing a stroke's risk factors. 

With the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and stroke through exercise, we provide better support for our immune system.

3. Exercise Improves Our Mental And Emotional Health

Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. 

It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood.

Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life.

Additionally, a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine revealed that energetic, happy, and relaxed people are less likely to catch a cold than depressed, nervous, or angry people.

In simple terms, when the brain is happy, it sends messages to our organs that help keep the body healthy and sound.

When you keep your brain in a healthy state, you may decrease your chances of developing the common cold, pneumonia, or even cancer. 

A Note About Exercise

Today, exercise is a necessity to achieve a healthy lifestyle. In an era of technology, our lifestyles demand less physical activities than ever before. Everything we need is accessible at arm's length. 

As a result, we need to make cognitive efforts to add exercise into our daily routines. Experts recommend scheduling a 150-minute moderate aerobic activity or 75-minute vigorous aerobic activity per week to maintain our health and prevent lifestyle diseases.

Working out with weights and resistance training can add a significant boost to your exercise regimen and overall health levels.   

However, please consult your healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet or exercise regime. 

Conclusion 

People running across bridge getting exercise

Experts cannot say definitively that exercise directly improves our immune system. However, we know intuitively that exercise is good for us and significantly lowers certain diseases' risk.

We also know that exercise is good for our mental and emotional health, and that feeling happier makes us less prone to getting sick. 

As a result, we can say that exercise positively boosts our immune system. It not only reduces our physical risk of disease and infection but also improves our emotional and mental health.  

Develop a small habit of exercising a few times every week to boost your immune system. You do not need to start big. Begin by engaging in low-intensity activities. Slowly build your endurance and move on to moderate and then, if possible, high-intensity until you finally get the pace that suits you. 

Low to moderate-intensity exercises include the following:



Higher-intensity exercise involves:


As we noted above, please consult your healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet or exercise regime. 

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