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How exercise can boost your immunity

How exercise can boost your immunity

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Did you know that regular exercise can also support the immune system? Naturopath Kate Ferguson takes a look at how exercise can influence our immunity and keep the common cold at bay.

Our immune system
The immune system is a complex network of cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that work together to fight off harmful substances and disease-causing micro-organisms called pathogens. A healthy immune system helps protect the body from disease and infection.

Our immune system has two parts- humoral and cell mediated. The humoral response involves immunoglobulin antibodies that signal immune cells to destroy foreign substances that enter the body. Cell mediated immunity involves white blood cells (WBCs) including T-cells and B-cells, destroying foreign invaders in the body.

The benefits of regular moderate exercise
We know that regular exercise is great for our health and wellbeing. While the exact mechanism of how exercise benefits immunity is still unclear, there are a few theories.

Exercise helps to decrease the amount of stress hormones, such as cortisol, released. These hormones can suppress immunity.

When we exercise we have a temporary increase in our body temperature. Viruses, such as the ones that cause cold and flu, thrive in cool temperatures so this increase in temperature may help to fight infection, similar to when we have a fever.

In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers investigated the ability of regular exercise to prevent upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) such as cold and flu. The study followed approximately 1000 participants in the US aged between 18 and 85 over 12 weeks during the winter months. What they found was that those people who exercised 5 days or more experienced 43% fewer days with an URTI than those who participated in 1 day or less of exercise per week. They also experienced less severity in symptoms of URTI by 32% to 41%.

References available on request