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Medica Superspecialty Hospital

Immunity & Exercise

Mr. Shaw, a 55-year-old consultant, has a completely sedentary lifestyle. Mostly operating from his home, he is busy on his phone and laptop the whole day. And evenings are television time, on his sofa watching serials. Recently, his health seems to be giving him some trouble. He has been battling with frequent bouts of cough and cold. He is never seen without a box of tissues, constantly sniffing and blowing his nose. In spite of almost no physical activity, he remains tired and stressed out all the time. Do you think the tendency may be related to his sedentary lifestyle and immune system?

Well, according to research, exercise or any physical activity is directly related to our natural immunity. If you go for a walk daily, or follow a simple exercise regime for at least a few days in a week, you are likely to feel stronger and healthier.

Connection between exercise and natural immunity

Immunity may be defined as the ability to withstand a disease or infections by averting the development of a pathogenic germ which tends to affect our health. Everyone has a different immune system with different potential to defeat a foreign microorganism inside the body.

Exercise initiates changes in the antibodies and WBC (white blood cells) by helping them circulate more rapidly during a workout or a physical activity session. WBCs are also known as leukocytes or leucocytes, which protect our body against infectious diseases and foreign invaders like virus and bacteria. The rapid movement of antibodies or WBCs helps to detect the ailments before it turns out to be severe.

Exercise is also known to have an intense impact on the normal functioning of the immune system. According to research, performing regular exercises of medium to robust intensity or bringing a change in a sedentary lifestyle by adopting some sort of physical activity improves the immune responses to vaccination and various immune markers in diseases like HIV, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cognitive impairment, obesity and cancer. It also helps in resistance against influenza, rhinovirus, herpes viruses like Epstein-Barr (EBV), varicella-zoster (VZV), and herpes-simplex-virus-1 (HSV-1).

Every exercise, especially active cardio respiratory exercise of the whole-body instantly activates billions of immune cells that are capable of carrying out functions like identification and killing of infected cells. The mobilized cells enter the blood vessels from the vascular pools, bone marrow or the spleen to the secondary lymphoid tissues and organs where immune defense is required.

Exercise releases various proteins (cytokines) like IL-6, IL-7, and IL-15. IL-6 that help in maintaining immunity by directly transporting the immune cells to the infected areas, while IL-7 promotes the production of new T-cells, and IL-15 maintains the T-cell in the border and NK-cell section. All the elements work in coordination to increase our resistance towards infection.

Exercise or any sort of physical activity is very essential for children and senior citizens as they are identified as a vulnerable population and are more prone to infections and diseases. Long term regular exercises tend to slow down the changes taking place in the immune system with growing age resulting in the reduction of the risk of getting infections. It keeps the bones strong and healthy as well.

Those who are already into regular exercise must not overdo it in order to increase their immunity. Overdoing long term physical activity may cause harm and can turn out to be fatal as well.

A physically active lifestyle includes:

  • Cycling
  • Stress-free walking for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Workouts, Zumba, aerobics, yoga or any dance
  • Involvement in outdoor game or sports

One can strengthen the immunity by adopting the following lifestyle and dietary changes:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat enough fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Get enough sleep
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Minimize stress
  • Drink tea like green or oolong tea because it enhances healthy antioxidants (flavonoids) in the body. The polyphenols present in tea protects the body from complete damage
  • Get exposed to sunlight
  • Include zinc in the diet
  • Do not skip breakfast

Regular exercise is one of the biggest pillars of healthy living. It helps:

  • boost the cardiovascular system
  • maintain blood pressure
  • get optimum sleep (fights insomnia)
  • control body weight (a risk factor for many diseases)

Exercise improves our natural immunity, making us feel healthier and energetic. Regular exercise or indulgence in sports or any physical activity has an enormous positive impact on the physical health as well as our mental well-being.

It is always advisable to take sufficient rest in between exercise or activity sessions and seek expert advice whenever you feel uneasy.

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