If you are like most people, when you think of your immune system, exercise probably isn't your first thought. However, there is compelling evidence that exercise can help and if you are already ill it can also help you get well sooner. The general guideline seems to be – exercise is good in moderation.

How Does It Strengthen The Immune System?

During a three-month long study researchers observed participants in a fitness program of strength training, endurance training, cardiovascular exercise and exercises for flexibility, balance and posture. The researchers examined the immune cells in the participants' blood before and after completion of the program, and the analysis showed that a large portion of the immune system's T cells were altered into a more effective disease-fighting form, called "naïve" T cells. Researchers presented their preliminary study at The Integrative Biology of Exercise VI meeting in mid-October and explained, "What we're suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren't helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful. There is a litany of positive benefits from exercise. If exercise indeed strengthens the immune system it is one more thing we should educate people about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives."

View Exercise As A Drug

Besides altering your immune cells into a more potent disease-fighting form and improving circulation of those immune cells in your blood, another primary way exercise benefits the immune system is by reducing elevated insulin levels. This creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of disease. It's also been suggested that apoptosis (programmed cell death) is triggered by exercise, causing diseased cells to die. The trick though is in understanding how to use exercise as a precise tool. Perhaps viewing it as a "drug" that needs to be carefully prescribed to achieve its maximum benefit. This ensures you're getting enough to achieve the benefit, not too much to cause injury, and the right variety to balance your entire physical structure and maintain strength, flexibility, and aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. Unfortunately, many public health guidelines still focus only on the aerobic aspects of exercise, and this exclusive focus can lead to imbalances that may actually prevent optimal health.

Create Your Own Fitness Program

It's important to include a large variety of techniques in your exercise routine, such as strength training, aerobics and core-building activities. Most important of all, however, is to make sure you include high-intensity, burst-type exercise, once or twice a week, in which you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then you recover for 90 seconds. These exercises can increase your body's natural production of human growth hormone. And including yoga, body-ball rolling and stretching exercises into your routine improves balance and gives relief from aches and pains.

The Benefits of Exercise

  • Improved immune function
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Improved energy levels
  • Better managed stress, anxiety, low mood or depression
  • Improved bone health
  • Better heart health
  • Builds muscle strength
  • Relieves pain
  • Improves range of movement
  • Maintains a healthy weight
  • Better sleep
  • Improved appetite

Tips For A Healthy Immune System

Always listen to your body and if you feel you need a break, take time to rest. Remember that exercising for just a few minutes a day is better than not exercising at all, and you'll likely find that your stamina increases and you're able to complete more challenging workouts with each passing day. In the event you are suffering from a very weakened immune system, you may want to exercise at home instead of visiting a public gym. But remember that exercise will ultimately help to boost your immune system, so it's very important to continue with your program, even if you suffer from chronic illness. That said, if your body will not allow you to exercise, either due to pain or worsening of your underlying condition, then you have no practical option but to honor your body's signals and exercise less. Even though your body desperately needs the exercise to improve, you will only get worse if you violate your current limitations.