Your Immune System: Exercises That Help & Hurt It

A woman holding a man's feet as he tries to do sit upsThe average adult has two to three respiratory infections each year. That number jumps to six or seven for young children. Whether or not you get sick with a cold after being exposed to a virus depends on many factors that affect your immune system. Old age, cigarette smoking, mental stress, poor nutrition and lack of sleep have all been associated with impaired immune function and increased risk of infection.

Can regular exercise help keep your immune system in good shape? Researchers are just now supplying some answers to this new and exciting question.

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Fitness enthusiasts have frequently reported that they experience less sickness than their sedentary peers. For example, a survey conducted during the ’80s revealed that 61 percent of 700 recreational runners reported fewer colds since they began running, while only 4 percent felt they had experienced more.

Further research has shown that during moderate exercise, several positive changes occur in the immune system. Various immune cells circulate through the body more quickly, and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. Once the moderate exercise bout is over, the immune system returns to normal within a few hours.

In other words, every time you go for a brisk walk, your immune system receives a boost that should increase your chances of fighting off cold viruses over the long term.

Should you exercise when sick?

Fitness enthusiasts and endurance athletes alike are often uncertain of whether they should exercise or rest when sick. Although more research is needed, most sports medicine experts in this area recommend that if you have symptoms of a common cold with no fever (i.e., symptoms are above the neck), moderate exercise such as walking is probably safe.

Intensive exercise should be postponed until a few days after the symptoms have gone away. However, if there are symptoms or signs of the flu (i.e., fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches, swollen lymph glands), then at least two weeks should probably be allowed before you resume intensive training.

Staying in shape to exercise

The following guidelines can help reduce their odds of getting sick.

  1. Eat a well-balanced diet. The immune system depends on many vitamins and minerals for optimal function. However, at this time, there is no good data to support supplementation beyond 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowances.
  2. Avoid rapid weight loss. Low-calorie diets, long-term fasting and rapid weight loss have been shown to impair immune function. Losing weight quickly is not good for the immune system.
  3. Obtain adequate sleep. Major sleep disruption (e.g., three hours less than normal) has been linked to immune suppression.
  4. Avoid over doing it. Space vigorous workouts apart as far apart as possible. Keep “within yourself” and don’t push beyond your ability to recover.

5 Diseases That Lack Of Sleep Can Cause

Black woman sleeping while lying on side
The most serious problem with not getting enough sleep is that terrible, groggy feeling you have to suffer through in the morning, right?

Wrong.

You may not realize this, but lack of sleep is much more dangerous than simply feeling more tired than usual. Increasingly, researchers tell us, it’s clear that not getting enough sleep can become a serious health hazard.

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Sleep deprivation can up your risks of:

Colon Cancer

In a study of 1,240 people published in 2011, Case Western University researchers found that those who slept fewer than 6 hours a night were 47 percent more likely to have colorectal polyps, which can become cancerous, than people who clocked at least 7 hours of sleep.

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Breast Cancer

Researchers at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan, studied data from nearly 24,000 women ages 40 to 79, and learned that those who slept fewer than 6 hours a night had a 62 percent higher risk for breast cancer, while those who slept more than 9 hours a night had a 28 percent lower risk.

Cardiovascular Disease

In a 2010 study published in the journal Sleep, researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine reviewed data from 30,397 people who had participated in the 2005 National Health Interview Study. They discovered…