Exercise and Immunity – Balance is Important

Battling another cough or cold? Feeling tired all the time? You may feel better if you take a daily walk or follow a simple exercise routine a few times a week. We all know that regular exercise is very important. It not only improves blood circulation but also helps to maintain weight and build our immune system so that we are better geared to fight infection. Regular exercise also reduces the release of stress hormones and helps the body produce Endorphins that bring about a feeling of happiness and well – being.

Can too much exercise harm you?

Many would however not know that even exercise can have its downside especially when it comes to intense physical activity. This has been particularly observed in those who are a marathon or triathlon runners, swimmers, cyclers or gym lovers. Strenuous exercise requires rapid breathing which increases the exposure of the lungs to airborne bacteria and viruses providing a window of opportunity for them to enter the body and cause infection. There are also several studies that show that intense exercise lowers antibodies like IgG and IgA in blood, saliva and other body fluids and weakens the humoral immunity of the body. Thus, despite their enviable physical stamina, most of them have a weak immune system and are more prone to common cold and cough. It becomes important, therefore, for them to take that extra care to ensure that they are fit and strong especially when participating in an important event or competition. Falling sick a few days before could be a major setback for them.

Ways to strengthen the Immune System

So how does one look after one’s health to ensure better immunity even during periods of intense physical activity? Your first line of defence is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Eating right with the correct proportion of carbohydrates and proteins is, of course, the best way. This would ensure that the body can focus on strengthening the immune system rather than finding ways of providing energy because of a lack of proper nutrients. Generous amounts of fruits and vegetables that are loaded with fibre, vitamin C, phytochemicals and antioxidants also have a positive effect on the immune system. Consuming plenty of fluids during the day to flush out the toxins and getting the much needed 7-8 hours of sleep is also vital for a strong immune system.

As much as 70-80% of the immune cells are located in the intestine, so the health of your intestine can really impact the health of your entire immune system. A sluggish, unhappy intestine will result in weak immunity – which means more colds and flu. In recent times there has been a growing interest in the power of probiotics to increase the friendly gut bacteria which are critical for ensuring strong immunity.

The result of a study in UK carried out by Professor Michael Gleeson, Professor of Exercise Biochemistry in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University demonstrated clear health benefit for athletes consuming a probiotic drink. The study showed that daily consumption of the probiotic reduced the incidence of common cold and helped reduce abdominal discomfort. There was an increase in salivary IgA (an antibody in saliva and airway mucus that plays a critical role in preventing viral infections).

Other ways to stay protected during periods of intense exercise is by minimizing contact with infected people, ensuring good hand hygiene by washing them regularly and not sharing drinking bottles, cups and towels.

Moderation is the key

Exercise is good for you, but you should not overdo it. People who push their bodies too hard may undo the benefits of exercise. Therefore, the key is Moderation and taking adequate care to stay protected.