Several recent blog posts have pointed out the health benefits of exercise and physical activity. In this one we’ll explore how an active lifestyle can support a healthy immune system. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense mechanism and offers protection not just in the winter months but all year round.
Building a strong immune system requires adopting healthy lifestyle habits one of which is exercise or physical activity. Along with eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and minimizing stress, exercise can improve your immune function for the long term.
On the flip side, leading a sedentary, inactive lifestyle can contribute to a weak immune system. When your immune system is compromised it can lead to illness.
Exercise boosts immunity in a variety of ways.
- May promote good circulation, allowing cells to do a more efficient job.
- Releases antibodies which attach themselves to bacteria or viruses and destroy them.
- May contribute to better functioning white blood cells which fight infections.
- Can positively affect the brain by promoting a sense of well-being.
The goal is to get your heart rate up, performing moderate to vigorous activity, at least three times a week for 30-60 minutes. This can be accomplished with something as simple as going for a brisk walk. Other activities to consider include running, cycling, and using an elliptical machine.
Strength training also appears to help support the immune system and is beneficial as you age. It improves mobility and supports bone health. For optimal health incorporate aerobic activities and strength training into your weekly fitness routine.
Repetition is key, as the benefits of a workout will be depleted over time. Exercising only occasionally is not going to have an impact on your immune system. Regular exercise can also help prevent age related immune function decline.
Recent research has found that exercise and physical activity can help prevent some cancers and help some cancer survivors live longer. This information was released in a report, Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors. A panel of researchers found that cancer related symptoms may be affected by performing moderate aerobic exercise, resistance training, or both.
The recommendations include:
- Exercise, for all adults, is important for cancer prevention. It lowers the risk of seven common types of cancer: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophagus, and stomach.
- Exercising after being diagnosed with breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer may help reduce the chance of recurrence and improve survival.
- Exercise during and after cancer treatment improves fatigue, anxiety, depression, physical function, and quality of life and does not exacerbate lymphedema.
Before my breast cancer diagnosis, I led an active lifestyle exercising an average of 5 days a week including running, swimming, cycling, and strength training. Throughout my treatment regimen, I continued to exercise. The level of intensity and quality of the workouts diminished but I kept moving. Maintaining an exercise routine was good for both my body and mind. After completing chemotherapy and radiation, I gradually increased the amount and duration of physical activity until I regained my stamina and endurance.
If you don’t currently have an exercise routine, check with your doctor before starting one and share your goals with them. Start slowly. Gradually increase the time and intensity of your workouts. Be persistent and consistent.