Our immune system is one of the most vital processes in our body as it helps us fight against infections. In these pandemic times, it is important to keep your immune system balanced and robust as it may be exposed to the coronavirus. Healthy lifestyle changes are key to strengthening your immune response naturally. A powerful way to boost your immune system’s defense activity is through physical exercise.
A 2017 study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise exerted anti-inflammatory effects.
When participants exercised, their sympathetic nervous system was activated to release hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream that suppress pro-inflammatory proteins, like the tumor necrosis factor. While inflammation does play a role in protecting the body from injuries, chronic inflammation can lead to the damaging of healthy cells and organs. This is linked to the development of many chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers are actively exploring the linkages between immunity and exercise in the growing field. Scientific studies have shown the abundance of health benefits for physical activity, from reducing emotional stress to extending your life. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week for adults.
Consistent moderate activity is key to boost the immune system, says Dr. Bhumi Patel, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Redefine Healthcare.
“It is very important to be consistent with exercise to maintain good health and well-being long-term. Without consistency, it may be difficult for your body to strengthen its immunity.”
Exercise varies across many levels, but it is important to stay active in the way that is best for your body. The main takeaway here is to move away from a sedentary lifestyle and get active on your feet. However, what may work for you may not work for others and vice versa. That’s perfectly okay. All that matters is your commitment and fulfillment to your wellness journey, Dr. Patel advises.
Below, Dr. Patel outlines three forms of exercise that provide a well-rounded workout for your body. Try these immune-boosting workouts to stay fit and healthy even if you are stuck at home.
High Intensity Interval Training
Also known as HIIT, high-intensity interval training integrates short periods of vigorous exercise to get your heart pumping followed by resting for the same amount of time. In other words, it combines cardio activities like jogging in a rotation with balance exercises, such as yoga. A HIIT workout session lasts about 15-20 minutes and can be done in the comfort of your home, requiring little to no equipment.
This intense training boosts your metabolism, says Dr. Patel. “HITT has shown to improve lean body muscle mass and increase your resting metabolic rate, thus burning more fat in your body.”
The lack of exercise on a regular basis can lead to greater accumulation of fat in the body, ultimately leading to chronic conditions like obesity if not burned.
Research suggests that obesity disrupts functions of both the endocrine and immune systems, causing inflammation and tissue damage that can prompt serious ailments like diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
Paula Hunnicutt, a CPT and the CEO of Warrior Wellness Fitness Studio, recommends engaging in a HIIT workout to “get your cardio, strength, and endurance in a short amount of time.”
Got a few minutes? Try these short scientifically-proven New York Times workouts that will have your body sweating and heart pumping in as little as 4 minutes.
Strength training involves strengthening the muscles and improving stamina. When you train, you are putting additional weight on your muscles, which heavily puts stress on them. As a result, your muscles experience micro-tears that are healed quickly by repairing tissues. Over time, as you train more, your working muscles become bigger and stronger.
“Strength training has several benefits in various age groups” says Dr. Patel. “As you age, you lose a lot of the type II fast twitch muscle, which decreases your muscle performance with activities of daily living.”
Aging is also tied to decreased immune response capabilities, which makes individuals more susceptible to infectious diseases.
Not only will strength training improve endurance with day-to-day tasks, but also help you build and maintain a strong immune system as you get older. As complicated as it may seem, strength training is actually simple.
Want to give it a shot? Try SELF’s 9 Weight Lifting Tips for Beginners That Will Make Your Workout More Effective. They also host Sweat with SELF workout classes on YouTube, which are led by experts in the fitness industry. For most classes, you do not need anything but your own bodyweight!
Heavy, rigorous exercise can put too much stress on the body and depress your immune system. Aerobic activities are pretty intense and sometimes it is just best to take a relaxing walk.
Light to moderate activities, such as walking your dog or taking a nighttime stroll, can do wonders for your well-being. Furthermore, spending more time in nature has been linked to improving mood and psychological stress.
A study of 20,000 individuals published June 2019 in Scientific Reports found that individuals who spent at least 120 minutes a week outdoors were more likely to optimize their psychological and physical well-being compared to those who did not. Stress, especially chronic stress, is linked to weakening your immune system, so it is important to take measures like walking to lower those stress levels.
“Walking is a natural form of activity to get from place A to place B. It improves ventilation in the lungs and if you walk more briskly, it will increase your heart and optimize cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Patel. “Walking consistently over periods of time has been proven to boost your overall stress levels, thus improving your immunity.”
She greatly recommends this to her patients with all types of health conditions, which can be adjusted accordingly to a wide variety of fitness levels.
With gyms and fitness centers closed or restricted due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, a simple walk is a safe way to get your daily workout in.
Joyce Shulman, Founder and CEO of the walking app 99 Walks, recommends trying walking at three different paces in your routine.
“Level 1 is your warm-up pace, a bit faster than a neighborhood stroll but not super intense. Level 2 is the top pace at which you could still maintain a conversation with a loved one or sing along with your favorite tunes. Level 3 is a power-walking pace, with arms bent at the elbow, in an intense way where it would be challenging to have an extended conversation. It really depends on your individual fitness level regarding how much time you spend at each level. Start slow and add a little bit each day.”