Active Seniors

How does exercise improve your immune system?

One of the many benefits of exercise, is it’s effect on the immune system. But exactly how could exercise have any sort of impact on the immune system and do I need to be mindful of anything when I am exercising? There are a few different mechanisms which we will explore below.

Cell mobilisation

When you exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity for less than 1 hour, one of the changes that occurs immediately, is that your body mobilises some of the key immune cells such as the natural killer cells, anti-inflammatory cytokines, immunoglobins, neutrophils and T and B cells. Moderate to vigorous exercise is classified as exercise that is performed at 60% or more of your maximum ability. All of these cells have an important role in our defence and surveillance systems as well as helping to maintain the health of the cells. As an added benefit, the anti-inflammatory changes also improve our body’s ability to control blood sugar and metabolise fats.

Inflammation reduction

Repeated exercise of this nature, increases this surveillance and has been linked to overall reductions in inflammation. In fact research has confirmed through clinical trials that people who exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity regularly are not only less likely to contract upper respiratory tract infections, but if they do happen to become ill, they have a 40-50% reduction in the severity and duration of their symptoms. This is more effective than many medications in reducing symptoms!tissue damage

Limiting tissue damage

While the evidence is still emerging, it also appears that the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that the body experiences after each bout of exercise, summate over time and may have a role in modulating the development of tumours, plaque development in the blood vessels and other disease processes. Exercise reduces damage to the tissues by enhancing the enzymes involved in our anti-oxidant defence mechanisms.

Of course, it is also important to understand that there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. In prolonged and heavy intensity exercise, the body can actually show signs of greater inflammation, oxidative stress and ultimately immune system dysfunction.

How do you know if your exercise intensity is too much?

I find a simple and easy way to gauge this is using a scale of 1-10. At the low end (1) is minimal effort, for example the amount of effort required to sit quietly in a chair. At the other extreme (10) is the effort required to perform a marathon. The number range you should be aiming to exercise in should be between a 5 and 7 ½ out of 10. At this intensity, you should also be able to speak brief sentences while exercising without being out of breath. If you want more information to make sure that your exercise program is at the correct intensity, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our staff and organise an appointment time. We now offer virtual consultation which we can use to ensure that the exercises that you perform

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