exercise immune function

Can exercise boost your immune system?

These days the positive impact of exercise on both physical and mental well-being is highly publicised. But what about boosting our resistance to more communicable diseases such as the flu and the common cold? Can exercise also boost immune function and improve our chances of resisting these types of conditions as well?

Health benefits of exercise

Exercise plays a powerful role in maintaining good heart, lung, bone, muscular and metabolic health. It also assists in the management and prevention of a number of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, asthma and osteoporosis (just to name a few!). Exercise also contributes significantly to managing mental health and mood. This is through a number of pathways including the increased secretion of endorphins or “feel good hormones” such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, all of which play an important role in regulating your mood. Equally important, exercise can also suppress the secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol leaving you feeling more upbeat and capable to take on the world!

So, what about exercise for immunity?

There has been much research and debate in recent times regarding the effect of exercise in enhancing immune function and reducing one’s risk of contracting communicable or infectious. While this is an ongoing area of research, recent studies have shown that acute bouts (classified as sixty minutes or less) of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise can lead to the increased recruitment and secretion of a number of proteins and substances such as immunoglobulin and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Both of these are involved with enhancing metabolic health and immune activity.

And consistency counts, too!

It appears that engaging in regular exercise over your lifespan can also slow immune function decline along with the changes that can occur with ageing, therefore reducing the risk of infection as we age.

Getting enough exercise

So, how much exercise should you be doing?

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults engage in a minimum of thirty minutes of physical activity per day, with an accumulation of 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week. Examples of moderate intensity physical activity can include brisk walking, golf, dancing, bike riding, recreational swimming, Pilates, yoga or even household chores such as vacuuming, raking and gardening. Examples of vigorous intensity exercise can include heavy weightlifting, running, bike riding at a greater speed, HIIT type workouts and spin classes. They also recommend strengthening exercise twice a week along with aiming to frequently break up sedentary time, limiting it to no more than one hour at a time.

Likewise, older adults (classified as those 65 years and older) are encouraged to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, but preferably all days. This should be a range of activities including aerobic, strength, flexibility and balance.

exercise immunity

The recommendations differ slightly for children, who are recommended to complete at least sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. It is also recommended children limit sedentary time to no more than two hours a day and are also encouraged to break up their sedentary time throughout the day. The guidelines also recommend that children between 5-13 years should accumulate 9-11 hours sleep a night while 14-17 year olds should aim for 8-10 hours uninterrupted sleep per night.

But how much is too much?

Among many in society there is a common misconception that exercise has a negative impact on immune function, leading to one increasing their susceptibility to disease. However, research has shown this is not entirely true.

It’s true that when it comes to exercise and immunity, there appears to be a “sweet spot” when it comes to duration and frequency of exercise dosage. For most of us though, we won’t come close to reaching the threshold for “too much” exercise!

Research has shown the load required to suppress immune function is one only commonly seen in elite athletes during intense training blocks where they are engaging in a high load of vigorous intensity activity for a prolonged period of time, often in conjunction with multiple competitions. However, this is commonly coupled with other stressors which researchers claim could also contribute to this immune suppression including changes in sleep patterns, reduced energy intake along with travel and psychological factors.

Exercise tips for winter

With the colder months approaching and daylight hours getting shorter, it’s not uncommon to see more people hitting the snooze button and skipping that morning run or Pilates session. Now, with a lot of gyms and indoor fitness facilities still closed, many are finding getting or keeping active to be quite a challenge. However, to reap the benefits of exercise you need to be consistent year-round.

Here are a few tips to help keep you accountable and stop you from becoming a casualty to the winter exercise hiatus!

  1. Find an activity you enjoy and stick to it. Also have alternatives for those days where you just can’t get outside.
  2. Enlist social support. Set a time with a friend to go for that morning walk or bike ride! Not only does it keep you accountable, but it may also make your exercise much more enjoyable!
  3. Be realistic with expectations. There is no point making yourself get up and out of bed at 6am if you’re not a morning person, find the time of day that works for you and you’ll be more likely to stick to it!
  4. Factor it in. Make an “appointment with yourself”. Set a time in your diary every day to attend that appointment, as you would any other regular appointment. I mean you wouldn’t not turn up to see your hairdresser or doctor, so why would you miss an appointment with yourself?
  5. Think back to WHY? Link back to your goals and why it’s important for you to be physically active? You may just find it sparks a little more motivation to do your workout!
  6. Active wear. Find yourself warm, lightweight, yet breathable clothing. Not only will it keep you warm in the beginning of your workout, it will also make it much easier to move around and prevent overheating or holding too much moisture which can lead to those post exercise chills.
  7. Ensure you warm up. Every time you exercise you should engage in a thorough warm up. This is even more important in the cooler months to slowly warm the body, increase range of motion and reduce stiffness in the muscles along with helping to prevent any injuries occurring.

 

Getting the “right” advice

If you need some help to get started or you’re living with a chronic condition or injury, then it’s best to seek expert advice to help you get moving safely. There’s over 6,500 Accredited Exercise Professionals around Australia who can help you to “exercise right” for your individual needs.

Click here to find one near you!

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Written by Abby Byrne. Abby is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Eureka Osteo and has a keen interest in women’s health, weight management, diabetes, along with health coaching, motivational interviewing and behavioural change.