Exercise is good for you – right? Now most people will agree with this statement. You’d have to be an ostrich to think otherwise. So does exercise boost your immune system? Well…maybe.
Your immune system is complex and while exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle may help to keep it in tip top condition, over-exercising may also leave you run down and prone to picking up infections…
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Exercise Benefits For Your Immune System
There are a lot of theories from boosting white blood cells to flushing bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Or even slowing down the release of stress hormones.
As an exercise junkie I’m happy to buy into the theory that exercise and your immune system go happily hand in hand. My issue is over quantity.
Here in the UK, the NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise a week. That’s just 20 minutes brisk walking or 10 minutes running a day.
I can get through my daily allocation just popping to the local shop!
To be fair, the National Health Service is just trying to encourage couch potatoes to exercise and these are minimum suggestions. There’s no official guidance for how much is too much.
Does Over-Exercising Harm Your Immune System?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes. Over-exercising makes you run the risk of injury and I suspect it damages your overall health.
I’ve certainly known endurance athletes to be more prone to bronchitis and Steve Birkenshaw famously contracted chronic fatigue syndrome after completing his 6 day non-stop Wainwrights round in the English Lake District.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with training hard. Within a controlled regime, building training gradually to a level your body can cope with, is very different to over-training.
So let’s look at the expert’s advice! Unfortunately medical science can’t seem to agree or offer definitive advice. Nieman and Wentz suggest illness risk is increased in athletes during periods of intensified training and competition.
Campbell and Turner on the other hand argue increased illness in competing athletes, such as at the London Marathon, is more likely to be caused by attending events with large gatherings of people or travelling to competitions by public transport.
So does exercise boost the immune system? My view is yes and it suits me to go along with the view that training hard won’t cause any harm. It just makes sense to watch out for the signs of over-training such as excessive fatigue and take time out until you recover.
Your immune system is complex. Exercise is one of several factors that keeps your immune system functioning at it’s best. Aim for regular exercise and avoid over-training.
All types of regular exercise are good for your general health and will help to keep your immune system functioning at its best. If you’re starting a new exercise regime just make sure you increase your exercise level slowly to avoid injury and over-training.