We often speak about vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can help to support our immune systems, but there is another way we can boost immunity that doesn’t involve veggie-loading or supplements, and that’s good ol’ exercise. Physical activity has long been studied for its beneficial, immune-modulating effects, even as far back as the 1900’s, when it was discovered that exercise changed the rate of immune cell production [i]. Between 1990-2009, the interaction between physical activity and nutrition gave researchers a much better understanding of the relationship between exercise and the effect on inflammatory processes [i].
Given that we at F-Factor don’t usually stress about missing a day in the gym, you may be thinking that we should change our tune based on this information. Fortunately for us, these immune-boosting effects are actually seen only for shorter duration exercise. In fact, the beneficial effect is reversed in high-intensity endurance exercise. Studies have demonstrated that illness risk actually increases among elite athletes, making them up to 4x more likely to suffer from illnesses compared to controls [i]. This was known as the “open window” theory, concluding that intense exercise leads to an “open window” of increased infection risk in the hours after exercise [ii]. Later, however, it was shown that short bouts of moderate exercise lasting less than 60 minutes help to stimulate the immune system and provide anti-inflammatory effects, especially on blood sugar and fat metabolism.
There are several other factors that influence susceptibility to illness, so exercise can’t get all the blame. General exposure to disease, genetics, sleep and rest patterns, nutritional status, and psychological stress will all have powerful influence on the immune system, but the stress of intense exercise on the body cannot be excluded as a culprit [i,ii].
So what does this mean for us?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there’s no need to go out and run a marathon to manage your weight and improve your health, and now we even have the research to back it up. Combined with proper nutrition, which you’re sure to get with the F-Factor lifestyle, 3 days a week of moderate-intensity exercise like a vigorous walk, yoga, a sculpt or dance class is all you need to promote immune health from the inside out.
Need some at-home exercise inspo? Here are some of our favorite workouts to keep you motivated, strong, and healthy. More of a sprinter? Click here.
- [i] Nieman, David C., and Laurel M. Wentz. “The Compelling Link between Physical Activity and the Body’s Defense System.” Journal of Sport and Health Science. Elsevier, (2018) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618301005
- [ii] Simpson, Richard J. et al. “Can Exercise Affect Immune Function to Increase Susceptibility to Infection?“ Exercise Immunology Review. (2020) http://eir-isei.de/2020/eir-2020-008-article.pdf