Would you like to have a stronger immune system? Would you like to feel more resilient in the face of coughs, colds, bugs, and viruses? Would you like to bounce back quicker from illness?
In this article, I am going to talk about one simple thing we can all do to support our immune system. And, by the way, it’s free!
The one thing we can all do every day to enhance our health is move more. It doesn’t matter whether you call it exercise, physical activity, or movement, it’s going to help you fend off viruses, bugs, and other nasties.
There is strong scientific evidence that confirms the benefits of regular exercise on our immune system. Since it boosts our physical and mental health, that’s a great reason to find ways to be active and move every day.
The simplest reason for this is that when we exercise, we increase our circulation (the rate at which blood is pumped around our body). When our circulation increases, our blood can deliver more oxygen and nutrients to all our cells, keeping them healthy.
More blood flowing round allows our immune system to act faster and more efficiently.
Our immune system does two important jobs.
Firstly, it’s permanently on the lookout for viruses, infections, and other harmful elements. This crucial process is called immunosurveillance.
Secondly, once our immune cells see something suspicious, they need to rally the troops. They need to call in other cells to attack and remove the intruder as quickly as possible.
The more we move and promote circulation, the better our immune system can perform all these functions.
The type of exercise that promotes our circulation is cardiovascular exercise (also known as aerobic exercise, CV, or cardio). It doesn’t matter what we call it; it’s any activity that gets our heart rate up and boosts our circulation.
To boost our circulation, we want to do more moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise. There are also known to be many benefits of higher intensity exercise, but there are also risks and precautions that need to be taken, so I will save that for another article!
You know you are doing moderate-intensity exercise if you are getting slightly out of breath when you are exercising. This, of course, means different things to different people.
For one person, a brisk walk might qualify as moderate-intensity exercise. For others, it’s going to be an uphill sprint on a bike. So it’s about doing what’s right for you!
When you are doing moderate-intensity exercise, you should still be able to talk, but not sing. If you can sing you could probably be doing a bit more. If you can’t even talk, you are probably working too hard!
The key to cardiovascular exercises is rhythmic movement of the limbs and the subsequent increase in the heart rate. That’s what boosts our circulation and helps our immune system to function to the best of its capability.
There are a couple of other things that are worth mentioning.
There’s the possibility that the brief rise in body temperature that is associated with exercise is beneficial (in that it makes it harder for bacteria and viruses to thrive).
There’s also a suggestion that, as our breathing rate increases, we may flush our lungs and our airways out a bit more and therefore get rid of bacteria and viruses quicker.
There are also two particularly important ways in which exercise indirectly impacts our immune system.
The first is sleep. You may know that exercise improves the quality of our sleep. And our immune system needs sleep to function well. When we sleep, our bodies release important proteins, antibodies, and immune cells, all of which help to fight infections and inflammation.
So, we need enough good-quality sleep if we are going to fight off viruses and infections.
Exercise also reduces our stress hormones and helps to stabilise our mood. When we are stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol suppresses our immune system. So, if we want to stave off illness and avoid viruses, we need to take steps to keep our stress and cortisol levels as low as possible.
I am aware this is easier said than done at difficult times. While we can’t always change what’s going on around us, we can usually take steps to modify our response or improve our coping mechanisms.
Before you go for that walk, exercise class, or do a home exercise video, are there any risks in terms of exercise and your immune system?
The only type of exercise that could be a concern is prolonged, high-intensity exercise. We’re talking endurance events, not dance classes or brisk walks.
There is some evidence to suggest that prolonged, high-intensity activities can suppress our immune system. However, that’s only an issue if you are planning on running multiple marathons or taking part in some ultra-endurance biking/swimming events.
Otherwise, as long as you’re doing an activity that you feel is appropriate for you, it should be beneficial for your overall health and for your immune system.
When you exercise, you should feel like you are working but not overdoing it. Afterwards, you should feel better than you did beforehand. So, you might feel a little tired but in a good way, like after an energising walk by the sea.
You shouldn’t feel so shattered that you can’t walk up the stairs or do anything else that day. If you do your exercise class, then go home and have nap, that’s OK (I love a good nap although when you call it a siesta it sounds even better!). But, if you go home and sleep for the rest of the day, the exercise might have been too much for you.
Moving more often could be your secret weapon to boost your immune system, fight off viruses, coughs, and colds, and bounce back more quickly if you do get ill.
Take a second now to think about what you could be doing to move more often and stay active. Try and do things you enjoy. If you like being outdoors, find something in nature. If you like music, try doing some dance. If you like being with other people, meet a friend for a walk, to play pickleball, or badminton, or go to a class.
If you are keen to exercise from home, an online exercise studio might be the answer. Find something that you will be able to do easily and will enjoy. Don’t make it harder than you need to!
What do you do to boost your immune system? How often do you move? What kind of exercise leaves you slightly out of breath? How do you feel afterwards? Please share your experiences with our community!
Tags Fitness Over 60