Cold and flu season are in full swing. With news stories of worldwide of flu rates, you are probably trying to do the extras to stay healthy this season. Here is how exercise can help keep your immune system strong.
How does exercise help your immune system protect you from illness?
Some of these theories according to Medline Plus are:
- Exercise may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
- Exercise causes 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. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.
How much is enough exercise to help keep your immune system strong?
This study found that just twenty minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise was enough to have significant improvements in immune system function by having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Some studies show that exercising over an hour or exercising to exhaustion can actually lower the immune systems ability to fight off those germs you are encountering every day. Moderate intensity is the amount that feels comfortable, not uncomfortable, for your breathing.
How does exercise help you recover well from illness?
Even if you do end up with a cold or flu, exercise is an important part of ensuring your body gets back to its usual functioning level as soon as possible. When you are recovering from an illness, bed rest is needed. During bed rest your body can lose up to 12% of its strength per week. Your connective tissue, bone and cardiovascular system all lose function during that time too. Getting back to a regular exercise routine helps you regain what you have lost so your body can make a full recovery and your immune system can bounce back quicker. When you restart exercise, start at less than 50% of what you were doing before you got sick. Most importantly, listen to your body! If it increases fatigue, cut it back even more. If it gives you energy and makes you feel better you know you found the right ‘starting dose’ of exercise to help your recover. Increase by about 10% per week, and continue to listen to your body.
Bottom Line: A simple lunchtime walk or family dance party before dinner could be all you need to use exercise as part of the ways you stay well this season. Exercise does not need to be complicated or fatiguing, just consistent so those everyday germs don’t stand a chance in your healthy and well body.
Keep moving, Be well!