You probably know that regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle alongside a nutritious diet and plenty of sleep. But does it support your immune system? If so, what types of exercises are best?
Time quotes David Nieman, a professor of public health and director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, as saying, “If you look at all the lifestyle factors that decrease the number of days you suffer from common cold, being a physically active and fit person is the most important.”
The article continues, “Nieman has spent years examining the effect exercise has on human health and immune function. In one of his studies, he and his colleagues found that 30 minutes of brisk walking increased the circulation of natural killer cells, white blood cells and other immune system warriors.”
So, one of the best exercises for immunity is brisk walking. What are some others? Select Health suggests strength training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and rebounding.
But what is more important than the specific exercises you do is how you do them. US News and World Report says that you should focus on consistency, work out outdoors sometimes, do a combination of strength training and cardio training, and give yourself time to recover.
Also, returning to the work and recommendations of David Nieman as discussed in Time, he says that the immune enhancements he discovered for half an hour of brisk walking were no longer present at three hours. That mans that he suggests regular, shorter workouts over less regular, longer workouts.
Nieman says, “If you have a housekeeper come in and clean for 30 minutes every day, by end of the month, your house will look a lot better. I think the same thing that happens with the immune system and pathogen clearance in the body.”
While exercising can enhance immunity, it is possible to overdo it. Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School writes, “Researchers documented an increase in upper respiratory infections in competitive cross-country skiers who exercise vigorously in the cold, but whether these infections are due to the cold or other factors — such as the intense exercise or the dryness of the air — is not known.”
Here is some additional research that suggests that heavy exertion may result in a decrease in immunity. But researchers are still not sure whether correlation equals causation.
Even Harvard emphasizes that exercising “can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system.”
So, the bottom line is that you should work out on a regular basis to bolster your immunity. Just try and avoid overdoing it—or be aware that if you do overexert yourself, your immunity might be suppressed during and after those heavy workouts or intense athletic events.
But since there are still more questions than answers in this area, you should keep up with current research. And in the meantime, consider going on a brisk walk for about half an hour a few times a week, or doing some other low to moderate intensity exercise you enjoy.
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