For most, the benefit of exercise is simple – weight loss and building muscle. But the benefits of exercise go beyond the surface. Studies have shown that regular exercise can improve one’s immune system and overall well-being.
Julie DeYoung, physical therapist at Clovis Community Medical Center, explains: “In one particular study, individuals who had never exercised started this three month walking program. They walked every day for three months and they were able to measure their length of recovery from an upper respiratory tract infection. They improved by 50% over the group of non-exercising individuals in the study.”
What’s your immune system and how does exercise help it?
The immune system is a collection of millions of white blood cells made within the bone marrow that protect us from environmental threats like bacteria, viruses and fungi. When we exercise, it increases the production of many different types of white blood cells, one of which is known as macrophage, DeYoung explains. Macrophages help scoop up and destroy harmful bacteria and viruses as they travel through the body.
This is especially important during times of stress, which without exercise, can lead to a weakened immune system.
“When the fight or flight mechanism is left on in our bodies for too long and these chronic stress hormones are floating around, it reduces the amount of immune cells that are circulating. So it’s really important that we use exercise to manage our stress,” DeYoung says.
Other ways exercise benefits your immune system:
Improves your quality of sleep, which aides in recovery
Increases bone density and decreases odds of getting osteoporosis
Elevated body temperature during exercise can help fight infection
Simple exercises you can do from home:
How to get started?
Take it slow – start by breaking up your exercise sessions, DeYoung says. Start with two 15 minute sessions a day and work up to meeting a goal of 30 minutes. Consider keeping an exercise log to track your progress and highlight the times you meet your goals. Use motivating music to keep your pace. Most of all, keep it fun!
Stay Well Company. Walking For Better Health at Any Age. Stay Well, 2006. Print.