Exercise Role in Immune System Health

lifestyle medicine Feb 24, 2023
Focused woman engaging in an indoor cycling workout on a Peloton bike in a cozy home environment, promoting health and fitness.

We just had the first false spring of the year in Ohio this week and goodness did it feel glorious! May this be your quick reminder to pick up your spring allergy supplies if you haven't already...

I have been working on incorporating movement back into my daily routine after falling into a bit of a rut over the winter season. Personally, I have always found it so much easier to want to get up and get moving when its sunny and warm outside. 

As I work to play around with my thoughts about movement.. 

Realizing that my thoughts about movement directly impact my actual actions (or inaction as the case may be). 

I decided to arm myself with some extra knowledge on just HOW helpful movement is to our health and healing. 

Below are 10 ways that movement directly affects your immune system and the citation if you want to read even more about it! 

  1. Movement lessens the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. All of these conditions increase our susceptibility to certain infections like covid-19.
  2. Improves immune surveillance! Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise increases the circulation of our immunoglobulins, cytokines, and white blood cells. In particular, Natural Killer and CD8+ killer T cells function better. Over time, this response can evolve and can lower inflammation levels which can be particularly helpful with inflammation associated with obesity. 
  3. Improves control of our inflammation responses. Each workout causes a temporary increase in total white blood cells and multiple different cytokines but regular exercise is overall anti-inflammatory as the body has improved control of the inflammatory signaling pathways. 
  4. Has direct anti-inflammatory effects. Exercise results in acute elevations of IL-6 which has direct anti-inflammatory effects on our immune system and can improve glucose and lipid metabolism. 
  5. Boosts our mood. Moderate-intensity exercise helps slow the release of stress hormones and gives us a healthy boost of endorphins.
  6. Improves your sleep. We know poor sleep leads to an increased risk of infection and poorer response to vaccines. Sleep loss is also associated with an increased risk of metabolic and inflammatory disorders like heart disease and diabetes. 
  7. Raises body temperature. Although it doesn’t get as high as a fever, it is speculated that a an increased body temp helps decrease the growth of bacteria. 
  8. Increased gut microbiome diversity. The mechanisms are not fully understood but a more diverse gut microbiome lends itself to better immune system health.
  9. Slows immunosenescence- a.k.a. immune system aging. Although we may not see wrinkles as our immune system ages, it changes like the rest of us and becomes more prone to misbehaving which is why we become more susceptible to infections, cancer and autoimmune conditions as we age. 
  10. Moderation is key. Too much of a good thing can be immune suppressing. High exercise training workloads, competitions and all of the associated stressors that occur with them can result in immune dysfunction, inflammation, oxidative stress and muscle damage. In particular, we know that this can increase our susceptibility to catching a cold! 


The reality is though that this knowledge is just one piece of the puzzle. 

The other half is working with our brains (and human nature) to get our behinds off the couch...

Building new neural pathways is integral in helping these conscious actions evolve into unconscious everyday habits. 

When this happens, it's magic...

Because then we can use that same conscious energy to do something else..

We can focus on building other great habits.. 

or expressing our creativity or other pursuits. 

If you are looking for support on your health and wellness journey, I recently started a wait list for Becoming Immune Confident-- Simple, Sustainable, Science-supported System for Anti-inflammatory living. 

CLICK HERE to get on the list and be the first to know when enrollment opens.   




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