There are so many things that can affect how we feel. Everywhere we go, we are exposed to germs and some of those aren’t very nice. Add busy schedules that don’t allow us to get proper rest, hectic routines that don’t allow us to eat properly and everyday stresses that can weaken our body’s efforts to stay healthy and we may just come down with something ugly. Exercise has so many benefits and several studies show that moderate, consistent exercise can actually help your immune system.
The intensity and duration of exercise needed for supporting the immune system is less than the required amount needed for the best cardiovascular training. Regular exercise such as brisk or moderate walking for 20-40 minutes every day, 5 days a week will increase the body’s ability to deal with infections. During moderate exercise, immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. Some studies have shown that a regular program of brisk walking can bolster the immune system including the antibody response and the natural killer (T cell) response.
After exercise ends, the immune systems generally returns to normal within a few hours, but consistent, regular exercise seems to make these changes a bit more long lasting. “When Moderate exercise is repeated on a near-daily basis, there is a cumulative effect that leads to a long-term immune response.” Dr. David Nieman.
We know that exercise also can boost our mental wellness as well. Psychological stress can also impair immunity and lead to an increase of cold and flu infections. It is not always clear whether exercise alone boosts the immune system directly or if it works through a link with the brain and the nervous system.
Too much exercise at high levels can affect your immune system in a negative way. Exercising at a higher intensity or lasting for more than 90 minutes can actually temporarily suppress your immune system. It can also make you susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session. When the body is stressed from higher levels of intensity, the body will produce certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity. Cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) have been linked to increases susceptibility to infection to extreme exercisers. If you are training for a long distance event or an extreme exercise situation, allow your body and your immune system to recover properly. If you are already ill, you should also be careful of working out too hard. Your immune system is already taxed by fighting your infection and additional stress from a tough workout could prolong your recovery.
In general, if you have mild cold symptoms and no fever, light or moderate exercise may help you feel a little better and actually boost your immune system. Intense or long duration exercise will only make things worse and keep you down long.