Can physical activity boost your immune system? With Covid-19 currently changing our working patterns and lifestyles, many have chosen to incorporate physical activity within their new daily routines, to breakup the day whilst benefiting from the positive effects of physical activity on physical and mental health.
Partaking in moderate physical activity may boost your immune system. Therefore, if you aren’t doing this already perhaps working physical activity into your daily routine could help you protect yourself against the virus, and improve your health more generally.
Physical Activity: Good or bad for immunity?
Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the pillars of healthy living, as well as other factors such as diet, sleep etc. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy? Just like a healthy diet, physical activity can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job more effectively.
Some scientists are trying to take the next step to determine whether exercise directly affects a person’s susceptibility to infection. For example, some researchers are looking at whether extreme amounts of intensive exercise can cause athletes to get sick more often or somehow impairs their immune function. To do this sort of research, exercise scientists typically ask athletes to exercise intensively; the scientists test their blood and urine before and after the exercise to detect any changes in immune system components. While some changes have been recorded, immunologists do not yet know what these changes mean in terms of human immune response.
But these subjects are elite athletes undergoing intense physical exertion. What about moderate exercise for average people? Does it help keep the immune system healthy? For now, even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established, it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular physical activity to be an important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with the rest of your body.
If you want to read more about the science behind physical activity and immunity this research article is a good place to start. It summarises research discoveries within 4 areas of exercise immunology that have received the most attention from investigators: (1) acute and chronic effects of exercise on the immune system, (2) clinical benefits of the exercise–immune relationship, (3) nutritional influences on the immune response to exercise, and (4) the effect of exercise on immunosenescence. Additionally, these methodologies will improve mechanistic understanding of how exercise-induced immune perturbations reduce the risk of common chronic diseases.
In short, the research currently suggests that regular engagement in moderate physical activity will have a direct benefit on improving general health and therefore, improve the immune system. However, intense and prolonged physical activity may temporarily reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, therefore athletes need to be mindful of overtraining at this time as they do not want to increase their changes of contracting the virus or developing complications due to a compromised immune system that could have been avoided.