To fight off infections and diseases it’s important to have a healthy immune system. Your immune system is a collection of special cells, organs, and substances that defends the body against infection and illness. It monitors the body at the cellular level and your immune system attempts to rid your body of anything unfamiliar.
How Exercise Can Improve Your Immune System
The immune system is a highly sophisticated system of biological structures and processes that protects our bodies against disease. To function properly, it needs to detect a wide variety of pathogens, everything from viruses to parasitic worms, and then distinguish enemy agents from the body’s own healthy tissue.
Research has shown that individuals who partake in regular exercise are much less likely to get sick and have better functioning immune systems in general. However, too much exercise can actually have the opposite effect; causing your body to become run down and less likely to recover from an illness.
A moderate amount of exercise each week increases the expression of white blood cells called macrophages. These cells are especially crucial in a person’s recovery from respiratory tract infections, and evidence exists that during exercise these cells circulate faster through the body, scooping up harmful bacteria and viruses along the way.
Exercise also blunts the release of stress hormones, which increase the likelihood of developing infections common in our environment. Exercise diminishes stress hormones by promoting the release of endorphins, and mood and health enhancing natural hormones.
Interestingly, the rise in body temperature that occurs following an exercise session can mimic the environment a fever creates when the body is fighting infections. Coupled with the increased flow of white blood cells, recovery is typically hastened.
Too Much Exercise
On the other hand, too much exercise increases your susceptibility to infection and illness. Research has shown that athletes who train more than 90 minutes per session, incorporate many high intensity movements or train multiple times a day are at an increased risk of becoming ill.
This occurs because the levels of stress hormones outweigh the effects of beneficial health promoting hormones, resulting in a state of chronic inflammation. The period of susceptibility is typically 3 days following a workout. For best results in boosting immunity, limit moderate intensity workouts to no more than 60 minutes.
You can exercise when you have an illness above the chest, like a cold. But, do not exercise when you have a full body illness that includes vomiting or body aches, as your immune system is already taxed and cannot handle the burden of further recovery.
Make sure to have ample recovery time between heavy workload workouts and apply periods of active and passive recovery. In active recovery, you still workout, but back away from the intensity by using slower forms of exercise. For example, if you run marathons, active recovery would involve walking, or playing a favorite sport, such as tennis to allow the body to recover from intense activity or muscle soreness.
On the other hand, passive recovery means no exercise at all, instead rest, massages, and heat and ice therapy. Both aspects are important for a well-functioning immune system.
Exercise is an important tool to optimizing your health. However, the key to harnessing its benefits is to strike a balance between too little and too much, and knowing when to back off.
Antigens and Your Immunity
Any substance that enters the body that the immune system does not recognize is known as an antigen. When an antigen enters your body, the immune response is triggered and the attack to get rid of it begins.
Our immune system has the ability to destroy anything containing a particular antigen, including, germs, viruses and cancer cells.
It’s safe to say that without our immunity, we wouldn’t be able to survive as it is our health defender. There are bacteria and viruses everywhere, not to mention helminths (worms) and tiny mites that carry infection and our immune systems continuously fight all types of bacteria, viruses and various parasites.
We also use our immunity to fight and kill cancerous cells that may appear and while of course it is not always successful as people still get cancer, those with a poor immune system are at a higher risk than individuals who take care of their immune system.
It is therefore important to take care of your immune system health. Thankfully, some of the ways in which you can do this are also beneficial in other ways to our overall health.
More Steps To Improve Your Immunity
What are some ways we can maximize the effectiveness of our immune system to stay as healthy as possible? Let’s look at a few:
Eat Healthy Foods
This means getting enough nutrition through fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds. There are nutrients in these foods that act as antioxidants, scavenging your body for oxygen free radicals that can damage cellular systems. Research has shown that increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet can improve your immunity to illnesses.
Stay Away From Tobacco Smoke
Tobacco smoke ruins immunity, even if you aren’t the actual smoker. Kids have an increased risk of getting middle ear infections and lung infections when exposed to second hand smoke by way of parents or family members smoking around them. Adults are more prone to getting bronchitis and pneumonia when exposed to tobacco smoke. The toxic ingredients in smoke lessen your ability to fight off all kinds of infections.
Probiotics are found in some yogurts as well as in capsule form. They consist of living spores of healthy bacteria or living organisms themselves. They colonize the gut and displace the “bad bacteria” that can make you sick. With probiotics, you can have a healthier gut immune system and can avoid gastrointestinal upset from bacteria or fungi in the gut.
Cut Down on Alcohol
Those who excessively drink alcohol have an increased risk of getting infections from a poor immune system. Pulmonary infections are particularly likely to happen in heavy drinkers.
Garlic is an antimicrobial agent in and of itself. It boosts the immune system in a general way but is inactivated by heat. For this reason, you should add garlic to foods just before serving the food.
Get Plenty of Vitamin D
Many people in the Northern Hemisphere are deficient in vitamin D and this can negatively affect immunity, particularly in the winter months. You can get vitamin D with exposure to the sun or you can take a vitamin D supplement. As some people need a lot of vitamin D and others don’t need as much, have your vitamin D level checked periodically until you find a dosage of vitamin D that brings your level into the normal range. In the summertime, just ten to fifteen minutes of sunlight per day can be a big benefit to your immune system.
Eat Shitake and Maitake Mushrooms
Studies have shown that really concentrated extracts of these types of medicinal mushrooms have enhanced the immune system of women who have breast cancer. While eating the mushroom alone hasn’t been studied, it may have a beneficial effect on the immune system of otherwise healthy people.
Immune Supporting Herbs
There are many immune-supportive herbs. Some are eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and American ginseng. These have been used in Chinese medicine to prevent infection and keep the body healthy.
Echinacea is good for respiratory infections, especially when taken early in the course of the infection. Make a tincture yourself or get one from a reputable herbalist.
As you can see it is easy to keep a healthy immune system! Is your immunity working at its best?
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