Boosting Your Immune System With Exercise

A healthy solution that also counters the negative effects of isolation and confinement.

The human immune system is a highly complex network of cells and molecules designed to protect us from infections and diseases.

Exercise is known to have an essential and profound impact on the normal functioning of the immune system

Regular practice of moderate to vigorous physical exercise showed improvements in immunological responses to vaccination, a decrease in low-grade chronic inflammation. It also showed improvements in different immunological markers in individuals with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cancer, HIV, among others.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about how exercise can protect us from infections, “boosting” immunity. This discussion became more pertinent with the limitations in people’s daily lives, among them, for example, restricted access to gyms and parks – areas which are usually used to perform exercise and physical activities.

To aggravate this situation, the known negative effects of social isolation and confinement on immunity are also in play. Glucocorticoids (which are hormones directly involved in the stress response), like cortisol, are elevated during periods of social isolation and confinement and can inhibit many critical functions of our immune system. T-cells (which are cells of the immune system and also belong to the group of white blood cells) have a viral and also a regulatory-immune response. 


When we are under the effects of stress, these T-cells are reduced, so the ability to fight infections or diseases is also reduced

It is also vitally important that our immune cells maintain their ability to reorganise themselves so that they can “patrol” vulnerable areas in the body (for example, the upper respiratory tract and the lungs) to prevent viruses and other pathogens from gaining ground. This process is also important to minimise the impact of the virus and speed up viral resolution if we are infected.

Each exercise session, (whether it’s a fitness class, running or home workout) particularly dynamic cardiorespiratory exercise throughout the body, instantly mobilises billions of cells in the immune system, especially those types of cells capable of recognising other infected cells and eliminating them.

The cells of the immune system that are mobilized with exercise, thus increase the host’s immune surveillance, which, in theory, makes us more resistant to infections. Exercise also releases several proteins that can help maintain immunity, especially muscle-derived cytokines, such as IL-6, IL-7 and IL-15.

In the short term, exercise can help the immune system to find and deal with pathogens. In the long run, regular exercise slows down the changes that occur in the immune system with ageing, thereby reducing the risk of infections.

Exercise is especially beneficial for the elderly who are more susceptible to infection in general and have also been identified as a particularly vulnerable population during this outbreak of COVID-19.

In short, it is vital that we try to meet recommended levels of physical activity

Not only can exercise have a direct positive effect on immune system cells and molecules, but it is also known to counter the adverse effects of isolation and confinement stress on various aspects of immunity.

In the context of the coronavirus and the conditions in which we find ourselves today, the most crucial consideration is to reduce the exposure of other people who may be carrying the virus. But we must not ignore the importance of staying active and healthy during this time.

Currently, the greatest risk of COVID-19 infection is exposure. We must find ways to continue exercising, while maintaining social distance and adequate hygiene measures.

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