Exercise immunology. The term for an entire field of scientific research dedicated to exploring how exercise impacts the body’s immune system. As an epidemiologist and researcher, I could read these studies all day long! But instead of boring you with a biology lesson, I will spare you the details and just give you the Twitter highlights.
If the thought of a Spark Notes biology lesson gives you anxiety, then just know this: regular exercise has been long shown to have a protective effect against certain types of infectious and chronic diseases, in large part because of how it affects the immune system. Regular exercise has been shown to not only improve the body’s first line of defense, but also to decrease inflammatory activity in order to help the immune system fight both new and existing illnesses. Most studies are based on aerobic (cardio) exercise programs, but there is good preliminary evidence that strength training has similar effects.
If you’re still reading, you’d be interested to know that the amount and intensity of exercise matters. Research shows that moderate to vigorous intensity exercise for no more than 60 minutes is the key to enhancing immune function. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that higher intensity exercise for longer periods of time actually has the opposite effect – it suppresses your natural immune response because it puts your body under a lot of stress and promotes systemic inflammation. While competitive athletes are healthy in many ways, they’re also more susceptible to catching infections for this exact reason.
If you’re still with me, then congratulations! I’ve saved the best piece of information for last. Oddly enough, there is a significant amount of research demonstrating that people on moderate exercise programs have reduced incidence and severity of upper respiratory tract infections (yes, like the coronavirus.) Crazy, right? Researchers have found that in some cases, exercise reduces the risk of upper respiratory tract infections by 50%, which is better than many medications and supplements.
The TLDR is to exercise regularly but take your rest days seriously! This balance will not only suit your busy schedule, but it will also help your body stave off inflammation and boost its natural immunity.