The Link Between Exercise and the Immune System
Is there a link between exercise and the immune system? Before starting any exercise regimen, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. Read on to learn more about how exercise can affect your immune health and overall health.
Exercise and the Immune System: What’s the Connection?
Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, and managing your stress levels all play a role in how the immune system functions. i,ii,iii But what role does exercise play in supporting immune health? The effect of exercise on the immune system has been a highly debated topic. In the 1980s and 1990s, research publications argued that acute bouts of aerobic exercise (particularly vigorous and prolonged) could be harmful to the immune system, although more recent research contradicts this theory.iv On the other hand, exercise may have a positive impact on immune health.
What’s fact and what’s fiction? Read on to hear the real story.
Is Exercise Good for Your Immune System?
Exercise helps support your health. There are several scientific theories about the link between exercise and immune function. One such theory is that exercise affects antibodies and white blood cells, which are part of the immune system.v However, research is still being done, so the exact reasons are yet unknown.v
Exercise can help reduce stress and supports better quality sleep, which also help to support immune health.vi Consider exercise as one component of a healthy wellness routine that—in addition to nutrition, rest, and stress management—can help support your health overall.
How to support your immune system while exercising
For most healthy individuals, regular exercise plays a role in normal immune function.vii Consider additional ways to support your immune system while you’re exercising and at the gym, including:
- Stay hydrated with water or a sports drink mix like Emergen-C Raspberry Hydration+ Sports Drink Mix, which contains vitamin C and key electrolytes like potassium
- Wash your hands frequently at the gym or after exercising outdoors
- Avoid touching your face at the gym
- Wipe down shared surfaces with antibacterial spray or wipes before and after each use
- Avoid touching the cap of your water bottle—opt for a push-top bottle instead and squirt your water into your mouth
- Wear flip-flops, shower shoes, socks, or sneakers when walking around the locker room
- Bring a towel from home to use when exercising
- Sanitize your smartphone when you leave the gym
Exercise Health Benefits
In addition to supporting immune health, exercise also may play a role in the following health benefits:
You don’t need to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Moderate exercise on a regular basis such as a brisk evening walk, or even working out in a small space at home, is a sustainable way to make exercise a part of your everyday routine. Complement exercise with other healthy lifestyle habits to support your immune health as well as your health overall.
To learn more, read another article on how exercise affects the immune system.
i. Support Your Health with Nutrition. Eatright.org. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/support-your-health-with-nutrition. Accessed 6/15/21.
ii. Boost Your Health with Better Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity. Accessed 6/15/21.
iii. What Happen When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/. Accessed 6/15/21.
iv. Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5911985/. Accessed 6/15/21.
v. Exercise and Immunity. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm. Accessed 6/15/21.
vii. The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defence system. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6523821/. Accessed 6/15/21.
viii. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/. Accessed 5/2/2021.
ix. Physical Activity and Brain Health. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770965/. Accessed 5/2/2021.