How Physical Activity Can Boost Your Immune System
The COVID-19 pandemic has made a lot of us think seriously about health and wellness — maybe for the first time. We've educated ourselves on questions like: "How does the virus spread? What are its symptoms? How can I protect myself?"
While we are still waiting for an effective vaccine, it's important to remember how our immune system functions. After all, in the event that we get infected with any virus (COVID-19 or otherwise) it's up to our immune system to protect our body and fight off the invading organisms. Our immune system defends us in two basic ways:
It develops virus-specific antibodies that adapt to and fight off infections.
It maintains a "general defence system" by using natural killer cells (NK-cells, for short).
Here's the key question for you and I: How can we boost our immune system's defences? One of the best ways to do so is to engage in regular physical activity — and resistance training in particular. Resistance training and the immune system It's indisputable that physical activity promotes bodily health. It is also highly likely that regular exercise can prevent many forms of infectious disease (or at the very least lessen their impact). There are several theories as to why this is the case. For instance:
Exercise increases blood circulation, which in turn leads to faster distribution of antibodies and white blood cells throughout the body. This may result in the early detection of invading bacteria or virus cells.
The temporary rise in body temperature during and after exercise may slow the growth of harmful bacteria.
Physical exertion counteracts the release of stress hormones. The less stressed we are, the more likely we'll stay healthy.
Both resistance training and endurance sports contribute to a healthy immune system. For instance, a Canadian study found that people who exercised with resistance bands three times per week enjoyed increased levels of NK-cells; and European researchers claim that endurance sports (like running a marathon) actually boost the immune system rather than suppressing it. Nevertheless, there is currently more evidence to support the benefits of resistance training than those of endurance exercise. Now the next question is: What's stopping us from beginning our exercise program? Physical activity and the "new normal" Let's be honest: when it comes to regular exercise, motivation can be a real issue. Maybe it's a mental block, maybe it's carving out time from a busy schedule — whatever the case may be, sticking to a routine can be challenging. However, right now is the best possible time to change our attitudes and habits. We're already several months into the "new normal" (courtesy of COVID-19), so it's time to take stock and make a plan. We've seen several health and wellness trends emerge since March of 2020: a rise in spending on "preventative health care," the booming popularity of digital health and wellness services, and an overall increase in consciousness around personal health and security. If we haven't already, it's time to jump on the bandwagon, and invest in a safer, stronger, more energetic life for ourselves. If this is going to be the "new normal," we might as well make it the "best normal" we can. Smart training of our immune system In the health and wellness world, one of the biggest mistakes that beginners make is diving into an exercise program without a solid plan. If we are going to start "training" our immune system, then it only makes sense to do it smart. Here are 6 keys to building the right program for your body's defensive system:
Regularity. It's important not just to engage in resistance training, but to do so consistently. Many experts recommend that you include resistance training in your schedule at least twice a week.
Proper dosage. While there's a lot of truth to the old saying "no pain, no gain," you don't want to over-stress your body and end up hurting your immune system. Exhausting workouts can actually make your body more susceptible to infection, both during and after your training session. One way to correctly "dose" your exercise regimen is to perform active cool-downs. These mild exercises (stretches, walking, etc.) may promote faster recovery of your cardiovascular and respiratory systems after a strenuous workout.
Personalization. It's only logical that your training needs to be personalized if you want to achieve best results. When your exercise program takes your health and fitness "baseline" into account, then there will be a lower risk of overexerting yourself at the start.
Guidance and tracking. Guided training ensures that you won't get overloaded or pushed to your limit, while performance tracking helps you to understand where you are, the progress you've already made, and which goal you need to aim for next.
Fun. When you start to enjoy exercising, you'll be motivated to keep going. One of the best ways to find enjoyment in your training regimen is to see results. Otherwise, it will be all too easy to slip back into old, lazy habits.
General lifestyle change. You can exercise as much as you want, but if you only get 2 hours of sleep each night and are constantly stressed about family, work, or money issues, then odds are your immune system won't function at 100% efficiency. The point is, investing in a regular exercise routine may not be enough to enjoy better health; you may need to take a hard look at yourself, and make some big changes in your lifestyle.
Regular exercise — the smart way In summary:
Our immune system is a dynamic marvel of engineering.
When we engage in regular physical activity (especially resistance training) we actively boost our immune system's capacity to fight off disease.
For best results, we need to be smart about our training.