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How Can Exercise Impact Your Immune System?

Are you looking for a way to upgrade your body's internal defense system or immune system? Do you suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, or heart disease? Maybe you want to find out how you can age like a fine wine rather than deteriorate to the point where you can’t function and participate in the game of life at a high level. Regular, moderate exercise is your key to increased quality and quantity of life, decreased risk of chronic diseases, and a healthier, more robust version of YOU!

Physical activity is an integral part of what makes a healthy lifestyle along with good diet and nutrition, sleep, sunlight, a sense of community, and taking care of your mental health. While exercise is frequently talked about in the realm of improving heart health or losing weight, something less frequently talked about are the positive effects that habitual exercise can have on your immune system function. Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to decrease inflammation in the body, regulate your body’s immune response, reduce risk of chronic diseases and upper respiratory tract infections, diversify your gut bacteria profile, and improve organ function, sleep, mood, energy, and even sex drive and performance. A high level of cardiovascular fitness has been shown to decrease your risk of all cause mortality by up to 5 times! Not to mention exercise decreases your risk falls, which is a major cause of disability and mortality in elderly populations. Our bodies are meant to move everyday so when we are constantly sedentary we are doing our bodies a disservice, inching closer to degeneration and chronic disease with every passing day. Think of exercise as an essential nutrient to a happy and healthy life. It is a requirement in order to be a highly functioning human as we age. So the question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to be able to play with my grandkids or do activities I enjoy as I age or do I want to be so frail and miserable that I can’t participate and live a full life well into my older years?”

As you begin your exercise or health journey it is important to know a few things about exercise including how long and often you should exercise to decrease chronic inflammation but also the importance of regular, continued exercise over time. The positive effects we get from exercise are going to accumulate over time so it is important to be consistent and habitual. It should be a part of your daily routine! These positive changes in your body are also time and dose dependent meaning exercise over time, and a more intense workout are going to benefit you more. It is important to note that certain types of exercise can have potential negative effects. Chronic, prolonged exercise like running a marathon or over-training can deplete your body to the point where you are more susceptible to illness afterwards. Not to discourage those who would like to run a marathon but just to let you know that you can overdo it when it comes to exercise.

The American Heart Association recommends that healthy individuals get about 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise along with at least 2 days of resistance exercise. For moderate intensity think of a brisk walk where you can say a full sentence but wouldn’t be able to sing. For those with chronic diseases or looking to lose weight it is recommended that at least 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise be performed each week. This is best spread out over multiple days so that would equate to 5 days of 60 minutes or 6 days of 50 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to never let yourself go more than a day without exercising.

Time can be a major factor in people’s ability to get 300 minutes of exercise during the week so it is a good idea to try and work exercise back into your daily life rather than solely rely on making it to the gym 6 days a week. You will find it can be very easy to make time by parceling your exercise minutes out into smaller, more frequent chunks and just making some small daily changes. Some things to increase your daily exercise are:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator

  • If going out for lunch at work, chose a location close by and walk instead of drive

  • Riding your bike to work

  • Work in a 10 minute walk before and/or after each meal

  • Take a 10 minute walk first thing in the morning or before bed

  • Park at the back of the parking lot

  • Carry your groceries to your car rather than using a cart

  • Use a smaller water bottle at work so you have to get up and refill more often

The most important thing is not the when or where it’s that you do it! Make exercise and moving more a priority as you move into the new year. Your future self will thank you! If you are interested in boosting your immune system, losing weight, and reducing your risk of chronic disease but not sure where to start, get an appointment scheduled at Sycamore Integrated Health with our health coach as we offer a great weight loss program, and now personal training! We are here for you as you begin your journey to a happier and healthier you!

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