Regular exercise plays a key role in keeping us healthy which in turn helps to prevent illness. So, what is the link between exercise and immunity? Let’s take a look.
Firstly, what is the immune system?
We know the importance of having a strong immune system but how does it work? The job of our immune system is to repel or limit infections and diseases (antigens). When the body finds a harmful virus, toxin or bacteria the immune system gets to work attacking it and making antibodies to defend us against the antigen in the future.
Some immune responses are innate, we are born with them, like our skin, a cough reflex and cells in the body. Acquired immunity comes from vaccines or from previous exposure to a virus or disease.
So how does regular exercise help our immune system?
It all depends on the intensity and frequency of the exercise. Research has shown that moderately intense exercise done regularly is best for boosting immunity, whereas prolonged, higher intensity exercise can suppress the immune system.
Here are six ways that exercise helps our immune system:
1. Increased circulation of immune cells Regular, moderate intensity exercise for 30-45 minutes increases the circulation of the body’s defence cells making us better equipped to fight harmful viruses and diseases.
2. Better quality sleep
We sleep better when we exercise and research has shown that sleep loss can affect the immune system, possibly due to a reduction in antibodies. So the better quality sleep we have, the better.
3. Improved mental health
Stress and depression are known to have an impact on our immune system. Decreasing our stress levels is a well-known side effect of exercise, stress hormones are suppressed and happy hormones are released.
4. Reducing the risk of heart disease
Heart disease and diabetes are known to make it harder to fight infections and viral illnesses so reducing our cardiovascular risk factors, preventing type 2 diabetes and increasing our good cholesterol keeps our immune system in good working order.
5. Raised body temperature
It is thought that a rise in our body temperature during and after exercise can reduce the growth of bacteria, in a similar way that a fever fights infection in the body.
6. Reducing inflammation
Moderate exercise maximises the effectiveness of our body’s inflammatory immune response. Inflammation is a normal function but can become acute and uncontrolled. Exercise can help to keep the immune response in check.
The benefits of exercise are many, keeping our minds and our bodies healthy, as well as helping our immune system to do its job well.
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