4 Exercise Principles to Boost the Immune System
by Cindy Angulo, DC Ranch Village Trainer
Regular exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle and can even prevent infection and boost the immune system when practiced correctly. It is important to learn how much, how intense, how long, and what type of exercise is best to support your immune system without overworking yourself. You should also consider whether to exercise when you’re sick — and there isn’t always a hard and fast answer.
Benefits of Exercise for Immune Health
Exercise has many great benefits for your immunity. According to UW Medicine, exercise improves the function of your immune system and helps the body respond to viruses quickly and optimally. Physical activity also helps your body react more efficiently to vaccines by developing a stronger antibody response. This better protects you from viruses and reduces their severity. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of exercise a week to reap these benefits. Activities should be within the moderate to the intense range.
The COVID-19 pandemic raised the world’s awareness of the importance of a strong and healthy immune system. Regular, physical activity plays a supportive role in keeping you healthy, preventing illnesses, and boosting your immune systems functions. Exercise reduces cardiovascular risk factors, prevents the development of type 2 diabetes, increases HDL (good) cholesterol, and lowers resting heart rate. These conditions make it difficult for your immune system to ward off infections and viral illnesses like COVID-19.
Now we know how important exercise is for immunity, but what are the best exercises to do? We recommend following the FITT principles, which stand for frequency, intensity, time, and type.
Everybody recovers from exercise at different rates depending on their fitness level. It is important to allow for a full recovery in-between gym sessions. Increasing your fitness level without over-stressing the body is the key factor to boosting your immune system. If you are a beginner, start with 20 to 30 minutes every other day and work up to daily workouts. Daily workouts build healthy habits and consistency and can provide health benefits like insulin regulation. A great way to start a daily exercise habit is by joining a fitness class that fits your schedule. Ask a Village trainer which class best suit your current fitness level and goals.
Moderate exercise with appropriate rest periods maximizes the effectiveness of your body’s inflammatory immune response and lowers your risk of chronic inflammation. If you are a beginner, start slowly then amplify the intensity as you get stronger.
Overworking your body becomes a stressor which can be worse than not exercising at all. Intense, prolonged workouts suppress the body’s immune response for a period of time after exercising. The body sees exercise as a stressor and raises the levels of the stress hormones. The longer and more intense your routine, the longer your immune system is down — and that means you could get sick more easily. Training to exhaustion is not supportive of a healthy immune system. Technological devices like My Zone are effective tools to monitor your work-to-recovery ratio, but listening to your body is very effective as well. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a great addition to a successful program, but is best practiced a few days per week to avoid overtraining.
The amount of time recommended for physical activity per week varies across sources. While experts at UW Medicine recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week, the World Health Organization recommends up to 300 minutes of aerobic exercise per week.
Keep in mind, long duration training such as marathon training can cause your body’s stress hormones to rise and suppress the immune system after the workout. This leaves you more susceptible to infection. Other experts believe aerobic activity of one hour or more can potentially cause a smaller, weaker heart and less powerful lungs. If this is true, long duration aerobic exercise could set you up for disease risks if performed too frequently. It is important to modify both the intensity and the duration of a workout to challenge the heart and lungs without creating additional stress.
The best type of exercise is the one you enjoy enough to do regularly. Enjoying the exercise experience will enhance your mood and create a long-term healthy habit. Once that habit is created, feel free to change it up to something that challenges you in a different way or breaks up the monotony of your routine.
Walking is a great option that can be done almost anywhere, anytime, and with anyone. Golf, tennis, riding a bike, and skiing are great activities to stay in shape and have fun with friends. Classes in cardio, strength, Pilates or yoga can teach you new ways to move and challenge your current routine. We tend to live a forward-focused “linear” life. When we stop moving sideways or in rotation, it can become more difficult to exercise flexibility which can lead to arthritis, joint pain, or injury due to imbalances. Each of these conditions are stressors that work against our mission for a stronger immune system. The Village offers a free Functional Movement Screening with a Village trainer to assess joint function and create a plan of the best exercises for you to avoid overuse injuries or imbalances.
Should you exercise when sick?
So if exercise is good for immunity, should you exercise when you’re sick? It depends… Exercising while sick may make you feel worse or delay recovery, especially if you’re running a fever or experiencing severe symptoms. It’s also important to isolate and not infect others. Listen to your body and take note of your symptoms before exercising when sick. If your symptoms are above the neck and you have enough energy, you should be able to exercise without concern. If you do work out, be courteous, avoid others, and always sanitize before and after using equipment. More severe symptoms such as a fever will require rest for a full recovery.
Moderate exercise with appropriate rest periods will maximize the effectiveness of your body’s inflammatory immune response, lowering your risk of chronic inflammation. Regular exercise results in better sleep, improved moods, lower stress levels, and increased circulation of immune cells in your body — all factors that contribute to a healthy immune system.
Follow the FITT principles based on where you are starting from and work from there. The Village Health Clubs have many tools and resources to support you on your journey to a stronger immune system. If you have any questions on how to get started or how to progress, feel free to contact our Village training staff at any of our locations.
Cindy Angulo Rood
Cindy Angulo Rood graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Exercise Science. She has over 15 Certifications postgraduate including ACSM, CSCS, NASM-PT AND CES, ACE-PT AND CES, TPI, FMS…
When she started personal training, it was weights and stationary equipment. Like life, training has evolved too. Today we still use weights and machines but also use bands, TRX, trapeze, and fun stuff to train your body and put it back on track to healthy. I can train you one-on-one or in our group sessions. Many of those group sessions are held outside by the pool. I have had the pleasure to work at the Village for more than 15 years. While working here it’s allowed me to also be a mom of 2 kids in elementary school. I also coach girls’ volleyball on the weekends. I have personally competed in over 20 fitness contests and became nationally ranked in 4 categories.