Boost Immunity Through Exercise

by Dr. Erin Carr, May 18, 2020

Did you know you can boost immunity through exercise? Low to moderate exercise creates a natural internal immune response. It increases anti-inflammatory cells within your body. As we age, inflammatory cells increase. There are many ways you can decrease these responses, and one of them is through exercise. Physical movement and exercise positively impacts your muscles and joints. Research shows exercise can also have physiological effects on your brain and body. Secreting the right hormones, anti-inflammatory cells boost immunity. In turn, this may help prevent infections and reduce the severity of getting an upper respiratory infection, cold or flu.

Keep in mind these tips when boosting your immune system through exercise.


1. Low to Moderate Exercise

The most important aspect of boosting immunity through exercise is low to moderate exercise. Consistency, intensity, mode and duration are important factors to keep in mind. Less is more. Research shows exercising for less than one hour at a time results in a decreased stress response to your body. Which then allows for more anti-inflammatory cells to flow. Exercising for this amount of time is enough to create changes in your immune response stabilizing temperature, blood flow and hydration at the cellular level. Research also shows low to moderate exercise may decrease risk of upper respiratory illness 25-50% after daily moderate exercise for 3 to 4 months.

For instance Take a 45-minute walk 1-2x a day. Consistent daily, low to moderate exercise can be the key.

By performing low to moderate exercise often. You may decrease your risk of chronic issues such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia and other illnesses.

*Articles suggest it can reduce sick days by 50% with consistent daily low to moderate exercise over 3-4 months.
*Low to moderate intensity can be healthy for your heart.
*It Increases the ability for your muscles to hypertrophy.
*Moderate exercise can allow muscles to repair themselves and help with injury prevention.


2. High Intensity Exercise…not so much

In research, high intensity exercise can actually have a negative effect on your immunity. Anti-inflammatory cells are ironically reduced as exercise intensity increases over long periods of time.

Heavy continuous exercise shows that immune cell function can be temporarily impaired. This increases cortisol. Cortisol increases stress in your body which may decrease your immune defenses. Cortisol also increases oxidative stress resulting in fatigue and decreases your body’s ability to secrete immune boosting cells throughout your body. Both of which are also risk factors for muscle or joint injury.

High intensity exercise may also increase your risk of upper respiratory infection. It can increase oxidative stress. Along with prolonged exposure to poor environmental factors including smog, poor air quality, or breathing in particulates for longer periods of time. All of these factors may increase inflammatory cell production. Production of these cells can lead to faster growth of viruses, fungus and bacteria.

High intensity exercise also puts you at a higher risk of injury. If you over exercise, then fatigue and weakness may cause you to be more susceptible to an injury. As a result, you may become sedentary for a period of time, also harming your immune system.

*Limit prolonged high intensity aerobic exercise such as long distance running, cycling or swimming

*The research recommends not intensively exercising for more than one hour at a time.

3. Exercise Outdoors When Able

When outdoors, boosting your immunity through exercise not only for the benefits of physical movement, but for the Vitamin D you will receive from the sun. 

Did you know Vitamin D3 is produced in your body’s skin when exposed to the suns UVB light rays?

Research states the cells in your skin, gut, lungs and urinary tract are your body’s first immune defense again bacteria.  This same research shows prolonged “daily darkness” can decrease your vitamin D levels weakening your immune system.

Vitamin D has the ability to produce anti-inflammatory cells. This creates a protective immune response.

The sun may play a larger part in our body’s ability to defend against infection, viruses, bacteria and fungi, than we give it credit. Another article also suggests getting a dose of sun may also decrease your risk of upper respiratory infections, the flu as well as autoimmune responses.

Another reason to exercise outside is to diversify your Microbiome.

What is your Microbiome?

Our body is made of trillions of microbes includes viruses, fungi, bacteria, yeast, etc. These are found on our skin, in our digestive tract, in our mouth and lungs. The air we breathe, whether in door or out, brings in a balance of these microbes. It is up to our body’s own make up on how we handle these microbes.

When there is less diversity of fungus in the lungs this may result in poorer lung function. Possibly one of the biggest factor between healthy and unhealthy lungs.


Final Thoughts On Boosting Your Immune System Health With Exercise!

Daily activity is essential for a healthy body to thrive. Boosting your immunity through exercise, with daily low to moderate activities, for 45-minutes each day can help.  It is recommended to exercise at a low to moderate intensity rather than high impact aerobic exercise. The boost to your immune system that moderate exercise provides can create a healthy anti-inflammatory response. And it may help decrease your body’s stress while improving blood flow over time. Exercising outdoors provides you with natural Vitamin D exposure and may contribute to diversifying your microbiome between indoor and outdoor environments.

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