Can You Improve your Immune System with Exercise?

[For Patients]

It’s amazing how quickly life can change! One minute you’re going about your typical daily routine. The next minute, everything changes and you have far more questions than answers.

One of the biggest questions on nearly everyone’s mind right now is…
how does the human immune system work and what can we do to help support it, so it can function better?

A strong, healthy immune system is the best defense for fighting off germs of all kinds – viral, bacterial, fungal.

But many people don’t realize there’s a well documented, research-supported link between immune system strength and exercise. In other words, by staying active and physically fit, you help your immune system stay fit and healthy as well!

But are there specific actions you can take right now, to help improve your immunity through exercise?
The good news is – there is!

Below is some info on the link between exercise and health. Please be sure to pass these tips to family and friends as well. As everyone is currently looking for anything they can do to help stay healthy…especially now.

The Science Between the Immune System-Exercise Link
Just last year, the Journal of Sport and Health Science published a study describing what they called a “compelling” link between exercise and immune system response.

This relatively new field of science is called “Exercise Immunology.” Yet there is scientific research dating back well over a century, highlighting how immune system response changes based on levels of exercise.

Here, as it turns out, moderation (rather than extreme exercise or a totally sedentary lifestyle) is key to optimal immune system function.

In other words, you don’t have to head to the gym every day before or after work for hours and hours. The best results will come from simply adding in some moderate exercise to your daily schedule.

Nursing Older People Journal published a study in 2012 confirming that exercise helps fight back against immunosenescence.

What is immunosenescence?

This term refers to the normal reduction in immune system function as we age.

But researchers now know that immunosenescence is something you can slow down. Exercise can strengthen immune system response by improving killer cell response, increasing T-cells production and enhancing the body’s response to almost any immune system challenge it faces.

Read on to learn easy, effective ways to add exercise to your daily routine and experience the immune-boosting benefits this will bring.

5 Easy Ways to Add Immune-Boosting Exercise to Your Day

These five ideas will help you brainstorm creative ways to add immune-boosting exercise to your day and also encourage your loved ones to join in with you.

1. Start with one-minute workouts….20 times per day.

Here is the secret to fitting 20 minutes of exercise into your day, starting right away. As MedLine Plus emphasizes emphasizes, you don’t need to do all 20 minutes at one time.

One 2016 study published by Plos One Journal showed that sedentary adults who added one (yes, ONE) minute of high-intensity exercise every 10 minutes for 50 minutes got the same benefits as adults who pursued a routine requiring 50 minutes of moderate, sustained exercise.

What are some examples of one-minute high intensity workouts? Assuming you do the suggestions below for one minute…here you go:

– Taking the stairs at a brisk clip.
– Fast-walking from your car into the grocery store.
*assuming it’s safe, park as far back in the parking lot as possible
– Chasing your dog around the park.
– 30 jumping jacks.
– Lifting your toddler up and down 20 times with good form.

If you do each of these five things once, you just added five minutes of high intensity exercise to your day. Using the research study example, this is roughly equivalent to 25 minutes of moderate exercise. Already you’re close to exceeding your goal!

2. Create a walk-able lifestyle

If you don’t already have a dog, now may or may not be the right time to go out and get one. But you can still pretend as if you have a dog – and not just any dog, but a dog that goes stir-crazy without frequent walks.

This is important, because WebMDWebMD points out that just adding regular walks to your schedule can cut the number of colds you get in half.

Colds, including the seasonal illness we now call influenza, are viral. So is the flu.

When you add more walks into your day, your body starts producing more T-cells (white blood cells that fight germs and disease). Are you in your 60’s and you want the white blood cell count of a 30-year-old? Walk for 30 minutes each day.

How can you add more walks into your day? Try these five ideas:

– Once again, park farther away in the parking lot at work.
– Walk your dog more (or offer to walk your neighbor’s dog).
– Make a “walkable errands” list and save up those tasks to do during your walk.
– Use half your lunch hour to walk outside at work.
– Institute a new family tradition – take a walk after dinner each night.

3. Incorporate gentle exercise with proven stress-reduction benefits.

As Northwestern Health Sciences University (NHSU) explains, exercise may have proven immune system benefits, but it is not a magic bullet all on its own.

If you are chronically stressed out, you are still more susceptible to becoming ill.

And if this describes you, then adding exercise to your life can potentially make your existing stress even worse.

That is the last thing you want or need!

Instead, consider choosing a gentle, consistent exercise practice that also has proven stress-reducing benefits. This way, you get the immune-boosting benefit and the stress-reduction benefit all at once – kind of like getting two for one.

Here are five ideas for gentle exercise programs that also have a proven link to stress reduction, as well as overall immune response improvement:

– T’ai chi chuan
– Quigong
– Yoga
– Pilates
– Swimming

4. Aim for “functional strength” in your exercise routine.

“Functional strength” is a term that basically means you are improving your strength, balance/stability and endurance at the same time.

Another, more common term, that you also might have heard of is “resistance training.” Resistance training incorporates muscle-building into focused exercises against some type of resistance such as a band or weight.

Here is a common example: you decide to do 20 controlled squats with good form, while you are holding a two-pound weight in each hand. In this example, you are working out your cardiovascular, neuromuscular (nervous system and muscular systems) and respiratory systems all at the same time.

Frontiers in Immunology researchers have now confirmed that exercise like this is likely to strengthen immune response over the long-term, and here is why.

When you work out your muscles and your body’s cardiovascular system at the same time, this releases more white blood T-cells into your body to fight off pathogens wherever they are hiding in your tissues.

Here are five easy tips to consider when adding functional strength training to your day:

– Use a suspension trainer (like a TRX) for improved form, while performing body weight exercises like a step-back lunge.
– Use bands and tubes for at-home resistance training combined with endurance movements.
– Harness your body weight to do push-ups, planks, bridges and squats.
– Try Pilates routines to work with bands or reformer machines.
– Small dumbbells or kettlebells also make handy functional strength training props.

5. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down.

Injuries happen, but neither your body nor your immune system will thank you for suddenly launching into vigorous exercise without any warning or without stretching afterwards.

Taking five minutes at the start of your workout to get the blood moving…and end with a 5-10 minute gentle stretch.

Also practice deep breathing, tune in to how you are feeling and soak in the benefits of your workout. These simple tips can perhaps be just as important as the exercise itself.

According to the Journal of Sports Medicine, a cool-down period is particularly supportive of overall immune system response following exercise.

Here are five ideas from the American Heart Association for adding easy warm-up and cool-down periods to any exercise routine:

– Plan for at least 5 minutes of warm-up and 5-10 minutes of cool-down.
– Do some exercises, just at a slower pace, as part of the cool-down.
– Hold each stretch gently for up to 30 seconds.
– Incorporate your whole body in your warm-up and cool-down sessions.
– Breathe in and out (through your nose if possible) deeply during warm-up and cool-down.

These five tips will help you boost your immune system function. And as a side perk, you will also reap all the other potential benefits of regular exercise – improved heart health, sleep, energy levels and enjoyment of your favorite activities!

Get Your Personalized Exercise and Fitness Program Today

Did you know that you can request your own free personalized exercise and fitness program courtesy of WebExercises? Contact your health care provider to ask for a WebExercises prescription that is tailored to your specific health and fitness needs and goals.

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David Cruz

Author David Cruz

Dr. David Cruz, DC practiced as a sports chiropractor in an medical orthopedic setting for 20 years treating athletic injuries, from weekend warriors to college athletes serving as the team chiropractor for Dominican University. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) as well as having both FMS and SFMA certifications. The combination of his background in sports medicine and interest in technology made him passionate about bringing these two worlds closer together, resulting in the foundation of his company WebExercises in 2005. WebExercises is used by health and fitness professionals to create, share and monitor patient exercise programs.

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