“Regular exercise is good for you”- a phrase which is commonly heard of.
It is not a new finding that being physically active has shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. Aside from that, could regular exercise play a part in preventing bacterial and viral infections and boosting the immune system? This article goes behind few theories on how exercise can support your immune system.
1. Exercise stimulates cellular immunity
According to a 2019 scientific review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, exercise was found to increase the circulation of immune cells in the body. The study author Dr. Nieman explained that exercise boosts blood and lymph flow when muscles contract, which enhances immune cell circulation and causes them to circulate more widely throughout the body. Exercise specifically aids in the recruitment of highly specialised immune cells such as natural killer cells and T cells that hunt down and eliminate infections (such as viruses). The findings indicate that regular exercise can improve immune response, lower illness risk, and reduce inflammation.
2.Exercise helps you sleep better
Regular exercise can improve overall quality of sleep which leads to a better functioning of the immune system. Research has shown that sleep deprivation might weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infections. This can be attributed to the lack of cytokines. They are proteins that target infection and inflammation as part of the immune response. Cytokines are physiologically regulated during sleep, which means that sleep deprivation may lead to a deficiency in these crucial proteins.
3.Exercise raises body temperature
Your body temperature will rise throughout most forms of exercise and stay elevated for a short while after you finish exercising, unless you are moving slowly. Similar to what happens when you have a fever, the brief rise in body temperature during and after exercise stimulate the activity of certain proteins, which in turn regulate the on-and-off switching of immune response-related genes as needed
4.Exercise reduces stress
Research has shown that regular exercise can reduce the release of stress hormones while influencing the brain to release chemicals that can improve mood and make you feel more relaxed. Stress is known to have significant impact on the regular function of the immune system, leading to a low chronic inflammation status that favors infections, diseases, and other illnesses.
- Nieman DC. Moderate exercise improves immunity and decreases illness rates. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2011 Jul;5(4):338-45.
- Zheng Q, Cui G, Chen J, Gao H, Wei Y, Uede T, Chen Z, Diao H. Regular exercise enhances the immune response against microbial antigens through up-regulation of toll-like receptor signaling pathways. Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry. 2015;37(2):735-46.
- Harper CV, Woodcock DJ, Lam C, Garcia-Albornoz M, Adamson A, Ashall L, Rowe W, Downton P, Schmidt L, West S, Spiller DG. Temperature regulates NF-κB dynamics and function through timing of A20 transcription. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2018 May 29;115(22):E5243-9.
- Kenny GP, McGinn R. Restoration of thermoregulation after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2017 Apr 1;122(4):933-44.
- Caplin A, Chen FS, Beauchamp MR, Puterman E. The effects of exercise intensity on the cortisol response to a subsequent acute psychosocial stressor. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2021 Sep 1;131:105336.
- Simpson RJ, Campbell JP, Gleeson M, Krüger K, Nieman DC, Pyne DB, Turner JE, Walsh NP. Can exercise affect immune function to increase susceptibility to infection?. Exercise immunology review. 2020 Mar 10;26:8-22.