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Safety / Injuries | Training Tips

How Does Exercise Affect Your Immune System?

Having a strong immune system means your body has a better chance of fighting off the latest germ or virus. This helps protect you against seasonal bugs, like the flu. It also means you’re at less risk of catching quick-spreading viruses.

Plus, even if you do wind up getting sick, a strong immune system can aid in your recovery. But how does this particular system actually work?

Understanding Immune Function

When an unknown foreign substance enters the body, it activates the immune system. These substances are known as antigens. Antigens known for instigating an immune response are viruses, bacteria, and fungus.

We often refer to the immune system as one solitary unit. Yet, as the National Institutes of Health explains, it is made up of two different subsystems. 

The first subsystem is the innate immune system. This system offers a general defense against harmful substances that enter the body. The skin and digestive tract are two common entrance sites.

The second subsystem is the adaptive immune system. If the body encounters an antigen it has never seen before, it doesn’t know how to respond. A good example of this is the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

When this occurs, it has to figure out how to fight the virus. Once it does, it creates an antibody that is able to counteract that specific antigen. This antibody helps protect the body if it encounters that same antigen in the future.

Additionally, there are instances in which the immune system doesn’t work as it should. In some cases, it may not respond well enough. In others, it over-responds and starts attacking things it shouldn’t. This happens when an autoimmune disease is present.

As Harvard Medical School explains, there are many things you can do to boost immunity. Among them are not smoking, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough sleep. Regular exercise is helpful as well.

How Does Exercise Affect Your Immune System?

Exercise is beneficial to immune system function in many ways. One is that it helps lower your white blood cells. This is important because a high white blood cell count is associated with inflammation. It could also signify that a health condition is present, such as coronary heart disease. 

Research reveals that engaging in regular exercise also helps protect the immune system from aging. Additionally, this effect is greatest for the elderly. This makes exercise even more beneficial for clients in their later years of life.

According to a study in Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews, regular moderate exercise can help reduce the risk of respiratory infection. It also reduces inflammation within the respiratory tract. This helps reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

Exercise also has a positive effect on chronic inflammation in the body. This type of long-lasting inflammation can occur due to factors such as poor diet or smoking. It also puts clients at greater risk of developing major health conditions. Among them are diabetes and cancer.

Research further reveals that obesity impairs immune function. This is due in part to obesity’s connection with chronic inflammation. Regular exercise helps clients maintain a healthy weight. This lowers the body’s inflammation, as well as decreasing the risks associated with it.

Exercises that Help Boost Immune System Function

What type of physical activity can improve your body’s ability to fend off infection and other foreign invaders? Medline reports that a “moderate program” can provide beneficial responses. This is good news for clients who aren’t interested in following a high-intensity exercise program. 

Examples of moderately intense exercise include walking or other forms of aerobic exercise. Training at the gym can be considered moderate-intensity exercise as well. The key is consistency. Ideally, this means working out daily or every other day.

Exercising with family and friends is another way to improve the body’s immune response. Why? Research has found that social support helps lower inflammation risk. Some studies have also connected social support with a reduced risk of life-threatening conditions. 

One way to improve immune system function while increasing social interaction is to get active with your kids. Another is to meet a friend for regular workouts. 

Exercising outdoors offers many benefits as well. In addition to avoiding viruses and bacteria that may be present in an indoor setting, taking your workout outside is also good for your mental health.

Answering Clients’ FAQs About Immunity and Physical Activity

Some clients care about immunity simply because they don’t want to get sick. For others, building their immune system will help them fight an inflammatory disease. 

Regardless of their reason, it is common to have a few questions about exercise and immunity. Here are a few to consider, as well as answers to provide.

  • Do I have to continue to take a vitamin if I work out every day? Yes, exercise offers many immune-building benefits, but this doesn’t mean your client should eliminate other healthy behaviors. Instead, encourage clients to continue their normal health regimens. Remind them that this will only make their immunity even stronger.
  • Does the intensity of the exercise matter? Some research has connected high-intensity exercise with an impaired immune system. Other studies suggest that it isn’t necessarily the strenuous exercise to blame. Instead, other factors like poor diet and chronic stress may be the root cause. 
  • What if I have an anti-inflammatory disease? Clients diagnosed with an anti-inflammatory disease should always talk to their doctor first. Have them ask about limitations or exercises they should avoid. This will help you create a more safe and effective exercise program.
  • Is there ever a time when exercise is bad for my immune system? This question typically comes up if the client isn’t feeling well. In cases such as these, the general rule of thumb is, if the symptoms are above the neck, it is likely safe to work out. If they are below the neck, recommend rest instead.

Because obesity is tied to a weakened immune system, helping clients lose weight can combat this effect. To help with this, the ISSA offers a Weight Management Specialist program. This course provides the tools required to help clients achieve and sustain a healthy weight. Upon its completion, you’ll have a better understanding of how your clients gain and lose weight. You’ll also be ready to share tips for creating lasting lifestyle changes. Check it out today!

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