Exercise and immunity
Battling another cough or cold? Feeling tired all the time? You may feel better if you take a daily walk or follow a simple exercise routine a few times a week.
Exercise helps decrease your chances of developing heart disease. It also keeps your bones healthy and strong.
We do not know exactly if or how exercise increases your immunity to certain illnesses. There are several theories. However, none of these theories have been proven. Some of these theories are:
- Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
- Exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body's immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
- The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
- Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.
Exercise is good for you, but, you should not overdo it. People who already exercise should not exercise more just to increase their immunity. Heavy, long-term exercise (such as marathon running and intense gym training) could actually cause harm.
Studies have shown that people who follow a moderately energetic lifestyle, benefit most from starting (and sticking to) an exercise program. A moderate program can consist of:
- Bicycling with your children a few times a week
- Taking daily 20 to 30 minute walks
- Going to the gym every other day
- Playing golf regularly
Exercise makes you feel healthier and more energetic. It can help you feel better about yourself. So go ahead, take that aerobics class or go for that walk. You will feel better and healthier for it.
There is no strong evidence to prove that taking immune supplements along with exercising lowers the chance of illness or infections.
Which of the following is a benefit of regular exercise?
A. Better control of your weight and appetite
B. Better fitness, so it’s easier to do everyday activities
C. Better sleep
D. Less stress and anxiety
E. Lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure
F. All of the above
How much daily exercise do children need?
A. 15 minutes
B. 30 minutes
C. 45 minutes
D. 60 minutes
Kids are more likely to exercise if their parents are active too.
Regular exercise is good for your bones.
Exercise can help you fight infections by:
A. Making you more confident
B. Making immune system stronger
C. Making you feel like nothing can hurt you
Weight or strength training can build muscle and improve strength at any age.
This is an important part of an exercise program:
A. Warming up and cooling down
B. Choosing the right gym
C. Push-ups and sit-ups
E. A and D
Some exercises can make you less likely to fall.
Which of the following can help prevent sports injuries?
A. Wearing safety gear
C. Slowly increasing how long and how hard you exercise
D. Warming up and cooling down
E. All of the above
Some people just don’t have time to be physically active.
Abalos KC, Petri WA. Infectious Disease and Sports. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR eds. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders;2015:chap 20.
Asplund CA, Best TM. Exercise physiology. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR eds. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders;2015:chap 7.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How does physical activity help build healthy bones? www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/bonehealth/conditioninfo/activity. Updated December 1, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Lanfranco F, Ghigo E, Strasburger CJ. Hormones and Athletic Performance. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier;2016:chap 26.
Walsh NP, Gleeson M, Shephard RJ, et al. Position statement. Part one: immune function and exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev. 2011;17:6-63. PMID: 21446342 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21446352.
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Review Date: 1/10/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 03/23/2018.