What is the Relationship Between Exercise and the Immune System?

Understanding the connection between exercise and the immune system is important for those interested in a healthy lifestyle.
Regular, moderate exercise will boost the immune system, while intense or extreme exercise may suppress immune system function.

Moderate Exercise and the Immune System

Participation in regular, moderate intensity exercise has been shown to contribute to building the immune system and reducing the risk of illnesses or disease. Another advantage of regular exercise is the release of endorphins, which improve your mood and are also natural pain relievers. Exercise will even increase your energy level and help you sleep better.

Several theories help to explain the relationship between moderate exercise and the immune system.

First, it appears that regular physical activity might contribute to ridding the lungs of the types of airborne bacteria and viruses that are linked to common upper respiratory tract infections, while also cleansing the body of certain carcinogens (cancer-causing cells) and waste products through increased output of urine and sweat.

Second, the increase in blood flow associated with moderate exercise helps to more quickly circulate antibodies and white blood cells needed to fight infection, thus providing the body with an early warning system to fight off potentially damaging germs.

In addition, the increase in body temperature that results from physical activity might aid in inhibiting the growth of bacteria, allowing the body to fight infection more effectively.

Finally, moderate exercise has been shown to reduce the secretion of stress-related hormones thought to contribute to the onset of illnesses such as the flu and the common cold, and give a temporary boost in the production of macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria.

Intense exercise and the immune system

Intense exercise seems to cause a temporary decrease in immune system function. Research has found that during intense physical exertion, the body produces certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity. Stress hormones (like adrenaline) raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which may suppress the immune system.

If you are already ill, you should be careful about exercising too intensely. Your immune system is already taxed by fighting your infection, and additional stress could undermine your recovery.

In general, if you have mild cold symptoms, without fever, light or moderate exercise may help you feel a bit better and actually boost your immune system. Intense exercise will only make things worse and likely extend your illness.

Although moderate exercise should help contribute in building the immune system up, don't forget the other factors that influence your overall health. Proper nutrition, rest, vitamins, herbs, and water also are factors in improving the immune system.

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