Exercise for a Super Immune System

Central Park Underwear Run

Central Park Underwear Run

We often hear of the many health benefits that regular exercise can provide us with, from improving heart health to combating depression; but what about our immune system? Can exercise be used as a way to boost our immune system, protect us against illness and lead to super immunity?

Proving the Immune System Benefits of Exercise


A 2008 study [1] conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Appalachian State University, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tied exercise to immune system strength. The study looked at 1,000 adults and found, quite conclusively, that those who exercised more frequently were less likely to become ill during the winter months.

The groups, aged 18 to 85, were monitored over a 12 week period following an initial assessment and were asked to record any symptoms they experienced such as coughs and sneezes, and log its severity based on the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey.

Even after adjustments for poor sleep and nutrition, stress, and age, the study was able to clearly demonstrate that the individuals who exercised the most were far less prone to cold and flu symptoms during the winter, and if they did get ill, their symptoms were far less severe and didn’t last for as long.


Strengthening the Case for Exercise


So by now we’ve established the power of exercise in preventing, or at least minimizing the symptoms of the common cold and flu-type illnesses that are particularly prevalent during the winter months, but do the benefits extend even further?

According to a 2012 study [2] conducted by the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute, they most certainly do.

It was demonstrated that a large number of T-cells in patients who had survived cancer were better equipped to stave off disease after the patients took part in a 12-week exercise regimen.

Study researcher Laura Bilek of the University of Nebraska Medical Center had this to say about the results: “What we’re suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren’t helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful,” leading us to hypothesize that the breakdown and subsequent cell turnover that occurs during and after exercise may help the body to, for want of a better phrase, get rid of the old and usher in the new.

Think of a swift run as an oil change for your body. It flushes out toxins, awakens your metabolism and improves circulation immediately as blood begins rapidly flowing throughout your body.

Although the results of the study have yet to be submitted to a peer-review journal and are therefore not to be regarded as wholly conclusive, this is very promising data which certainly strengthens the case for the application of exercise in boosting immune function.


Bilek goes on to add, “If exercise indeed strengthens the immune system and potentially improves cancer surveillance, it’s one more thing we should educate patients about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives.”


Another study [3] [4] conducted by the University of North Carolina took a group of approximately 3,000 women and clearly showed that the women who participated in regular exercise – between 10 and 19 hours per week – displayed the greatest reduction in risk factors typically associated with breast cancer, a reduction of up to 30 per cent.

Study researcher Lauren McCullough commented on the results of the study with, “The observation of a reduced risk of breast cancer for women who engaged in exercise after menopause is particularly encouraging given the late age of onset for breast cancer.”

Similar data was produced by a study [5] conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which showed that women who maintained a healthy lifestyle and healthy body weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy diet of whole foods showed a significant decrease in the hormones associated with breast cancer.

These results were on the basis that the women experienced some weight loss and were able to maintain the new body weight.

The take home point from these particular studies is that prevention is the most important factor in reducing breast cancer risk factors, and this is largely achieved by attaining and maintaining a healthy weight and level of body fat. The women who were active but gained weight actually saw an increase in risk factors, leading to the conclusion that the foundation of prevention is not exercise in isolation, but a healthy lifestyle – particularly in the realm of nutrition. The combination of regular exercise and a balanced healthy diet full of super foods will eventually lead to super immunity.


Moderation is Key


So we can clearly see that frequent, moderate-intensity exercise is incredibly beneficial to keeping a strong and healthy immune system, but you can always have too much of a good thing.

Regular, intense exercise can actually dampen the immune system as the body struggles to recover from the extremes it is put through during the bouts of exercise – this is a phenomenon known as Overtraining Syndrome [6].

Overtraining Syndrome usually affects more advanced athletes who are continually pushing their bodies to new extremes, but it can afflict any of us depending on the current shape of our immune system and our capacity for recovery from exercise.


Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome can include:

  • Loss of sleep;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Decreased sex drive;
  • Bad or inconsistent moods;
  • Increased resting heart rate;
  • Loss off enthusiasm for the given sport; and of course
  • Suppressed immunity


As is too often the case, the best treatment for Overtraining Syndrome is prevention; exercise responsibly and the ability to listen to your body. Never push your body to the point that you begin to experience the above symptoms on an ongoing basis.


Active recovery [7] is also a great way of holding off overtraining, and other methods include:

  • Adequate nutrition, including ample protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and enough carbohydrates to enable your body to recover from your workouts;
  • Getting enough sleep each night, 7 or 8 hours is enough for most people;
  • Using a sports recovery supplement which includes free-form amino acids; and
  • Abstaining from drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and any other harmful substances which may impact your immune system and recovery capabilities.

Of course, combining two or more of these methods will compound the benefits and help your immune system to stay strong.



So does exercise boost the immune system? Of course!

The important thing is to remember that all the exercise in the world is not going to cancel out a terrible diet, so don’t think you can go and order an XL stuffed-crust pizza just because you put in 30 minutes on the elliptical!

The key to attaining and maintaining a healthy immune system is to combine a clean and natural lifestyle. Regular exercise, wholesome and nutritious food, and abstaining from alcohol and similar items that wreak havoc on your body’s defenses are a powerful combination.

Exercise can and does provide assistance in the fight against disease, including everything from the common cold to cancer itself, but you must take the reins and accept responsibility for your own body – it is not enough to simply be active, you must monitor what you put into your body also.

By adopting a well-rounded approach such as this, you will be giving your immune system that much-needed boost it needs during the winter months, with the assurance that you will be safeguarding your longevity and well being later in life.

About Rick Rockwell

Rick Rockwell is a self-employed personal trainer and experienced freelance writer. His articles have been published throughout the Internet. While his days are spent at www.Apppicker.com his nights are spent exercising and weekends exploring the great outdoors. He has more than 10 years of experience as a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and lifestyle coach. His company, Rockwell Fitness, is dedicated to educating and empowering others to live healthy lifestyles.

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