We all know that regular exercise offers incredible health benefits—improving your mood, reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, and keeping you physically fit, to name a few. But did you know that physical activity can also give your immune system a solid boost? Research confirms it! With cold and flu season around the corner, it's a smart idea to think about revving up your workout game with some of the best exercises to boost your immunity. Eat This, Not That! spoke with Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, a member of our Medical Expert Board and a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach who shares his top recommended exercises for a healthier immune system.
Getting your fill of regular exercise can help move any bacteria out of your airways and lungs, which might decrease your risk of contracting the flu, a cold, or another illness, MedlinePlus reports. "Exercise may help boost your immune system, giving you an extra layer of protection against infections," Dr. Bohl tells us. "The reasons why this might be happening are not proven, but there are a few theories. Among them: When you exercise, your body temperature rises, which could be harmful to bacteria or help your body fight them. Also when you exercise, you breathe harder, so you may expel microbes from your lungs. Exercising also helps your blood flow and can cause changes in antibodies and white blood cells, which might have a beneficial immune effect." As if you needed any more convincing, working out also helps lower stress, which can aid in boosting your immunity.
It's important to note that if you want to use exercise to improve your immune system, moderation is key. Performing regular vigorous exercise can actually have the opposite effect and make you more likely to get sick. So if you're ready to give your fitness routine a necessary update to be cold and flu season-ready, keep reading for the best moderate-intensity exercises to boost your immunity. And when you're finished, don't miss out on the 5 Best Mediterranean Lifestyle Tips for a Longer, Healthier Life.
Walking or Jogging
You may be surprised to learn that lacing up your sneakers for a daily walk or jog could positively impact your immunity. Dr. Bohl recommends carving out 30 to 60 minutes of your day to walk or jog—and it will certainly pay off! According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, individuals who worked at least 20 minutes of walking into their day, five days a week, experienced 43% fewer sick days compared to those who exercised once a week at max.
Biking isn't just a fun and invigorating activity. According to a study published in Aging Cell, taking your bike for a spin can ensure your immune system stays young and strong. The research analyzed 125 physically active cyclists, aged 55 to 79. The scientists looked for T cells in the participants' blood, which aid your body in warding off diseases, viruses, and bacteria. The amount of T cells was much more prevalent in the active cyclist group compared to the inactive group of individuals. The most interesting part? The older adult cyclists produced the same amount of T cells as individuals in their 20s!
Participating in a Sport, Like Tennis
Participating in sports such as tennis not only keeps you feeling young, social, and fit, but they can also improve your immune system. This racket sport is associated with plenty of additional benefits behind the scenes, such as enhanced agility, increased energy levels, and helping avoid injury, according to the United States Tennis Association. Plus, you can play the sport indoors well into the fall and winter months.
Whether you lift weights, work with resistance bands, or challenge your body with floor exercises, strength training is a crucial part of any fitness regimen. Dr. Bohl suggests doing a full-body strength workout around three times a week at the gym—and you will surely reap the benefits. According to research published in Experimental Gerontology, resistance training can be incredibly beneficial to your immune system, as it can make you less susceptible to suffering from infections. It can also boost the effectiveness of vaccines.
Last but not least, Dr. Bohl recommends stretching it out with yoga to improve your immunity. According to Mass General Brigham, being mindful of how you breathe while performing a yoga flow boosts the flow of oxygen and can help you get a handle on your stress level. If you're feeling a lack of productivity, this form of exercise can also help in that department. In addition, practicing yoga can lower inflammation and positively impact your immunity. So whether you go through a revitalizing morning flow or take a class with friends, your body and immunity are reaping some pretty stellar benefits.
- Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32139352/
- Source: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm
- Source: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/12/987?sid=fe62a8c5-430b-4506-b854-20b62e8a5e9e
- Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/acel.12750
- Source: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/tests/t-cell-count
- Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556522001309
- Source: https://blog.massgeneralbrighamhealthplan.org/ldid-you-know-that-yoga-can-boost-your-immune-system-and-increase-productivity