Exercising contributes to improved health, which in turn helps us maintain sturdy immune systems. With increased isolation and stress, movement is especially beneficial now as exercise is well known for its mood enhancement effects, which many of us could use a boost.
But are all workouts created equal in times like this? What does the ideal fitness regime or workout look like?
Moderate intensity exercise over a long period has been shown to contribute to good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Macrophages, the cells which attack bacteria, see a temporary boost in production and continue to flow through the body at an increased rate for a few hours, following moderate intensity exercise. The more seasoned an exerciser, the greater this benefit is thought to be. So since we are all home bound, consider shorter more frequent exercise bursts. The rhythmic action of most moderate intensity exercise methods such as brisk walking, Pilates, light weights and barre, move the joints, ensuring the lymphatic system pumps fluid around the body to remove debris effectively.
Dr. David Nieman found that 40 minutes of moderate exercise on most days was most beneficial and decreased the number of sick days due to cold and flu symptoms by half. Now granted, This was a study on the common flu, but it can’t hurt!!
In fact patients with mild cold symptoms and no fever, partaking in light or moderate exercise may feel better and actually boost their immune system. Which is why our studios had always (pre corona virus) encouraged you to come in still! I for one have never felt worse for doing some Pilates!
So what about high intensity exercise? The kind of exercise that takes 100% of our effort and energy (heavy weights, intense cardio, long runs) can often times leave us feeling drained. Although there is a time and a place for this kind of exercise, does it play a role in our immunity?
The risk of illness was actually found to be increased as the intensity of training increased in a study conducted by Nieman and Wentz along with an abundance of other research papers.
Heavy/endurance style training, (longer than 90 minutes) was seen to have a negative impact on the immune system. This was due to a surge in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which remained elevated in subjects for up to 72 hours post workout. These stress hormones suppress the immune system, leaving exercisers more susceptible to illness.
So we can see that too much of a good thing is not great for the immune system and that we need to be aiming for 40 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, on most days.
One area that is being looked at in particular is the reduction of bone marrow and therefore stem cells as we age. The stem cells are responsible for fighting off infection and are produced by bone marrow. Therefore if moderate intensity workouts that includes resistance training would be the ultimate winner in terms of immunity and long term health.
To staying healthy,
MPS and Central Core