Why regular exercise is the key to a strong immune system

The health benefits of exercise are well documented, improving both mental and physical well being. However, recent research by Frontiers in Immunology suggests a surprising link between fitness and immune system strength. In fact, regular physical activity appears to significantly reduce your chances of developing a chronic disease in later life. In these sedentary times physical activity has become more important than ever. While millions are taking up new forms of exercise, those who decide not to should understand the benefits they are missing out on.

The benefits of cardio

Exercise immunology is a relatively new field of research, beginning in the 1990s. Research has shown that short bursts (under 60 minutes) of aerobic exercise acts as a powerful adjuvant. This is because it boosts the immune system by stimulating the circulation of white blood cells. Furthermore, moderate exercise has anti-inflammatory effects and may even enhance the immune system’s antibody-specific response to vaccinations.

However, prolonged high-intensity exercise has been shown to have the opposite effect. Physically demanding events and workloads are linked to immune dysfunction, inflammation and oxidative stress. These effects can last from several hours all the way up to several days during the body’s recovery. These effects can be offset however through good nutrition. Research has shown that increased consumption of carbohydrates and polyphenols can counter many of the impacts of intense workouts on the immune system. Indeed, our diet is equally if not more important than exercise for our immune system. Understanding the foundations of a balanced diet and perhaps even tailoring it towards good immunonutrition can have a profound impact on your immune system’s strength.


The benefits of resistance training

Research published this year by German scientists found a link between muscle mass and immune system function during chronic disease in mice. While the links are not yet fully understood, their research showed that mice with more muscle mass coped much better with a chronic viral infection. Muscle appears to signal T-cell precursors causing them to settle in the muscle tissue which protects them from inflammation.

This study follows a number of fascinating papers released over the last few years linking the immune system and our muscles in multiple ways. The process of muscle regeneration appears to be strongly influenced by immune cells like macrophages. In their different forms, macrophages regulate the inflammatory response and have been shown to promote growth and regeneration after injury. While the link between immune system strength and muscle mass has yet to be demonstrated in humans, it has been observed by oncologists that patients with higher muscle mass have better outcomes on average.

It’s common knowledge that exercise is critical for maintaining health but research published over the last year is showing this to be true in all new ways. Moderate cardio exercise performed regularly has been shown to boost the immune system and potentially even enhance our response to vaccines. While research into the benefits of resistance training is in its infancy, the initial findings are very promising. We may soon find that the perfect immune system is the product of not just diet and cardio but also weight lifting.


Contributed by Jess Walter

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