How Does Exercise Impact Your Immune System?

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A microscopic view of a virus - does exercise negatively impact immune system function?

How does vigorous exercise impact your immune system? In the past, it was believed that intense exercise will make you more susceptible to illness.

But the results of a recent study seem to suggest the opposite.

Published in the Frontiers in Immunology journal recently, this study hints that intense exercise in fact does not blunt the immune system’s effectiveness. Rather, it may improve immune system performance, and in any case does not appear to make your immune system less effective.

This meta-analysis, which is a study of the results of numerous other studies, cannot prove this conjecture, but it does highlight strong evidence that appears to confirm the hypothesis. The authors take a fresh look at the measurable immune system changes that happen after exercise and propose that these are in fact a sign of a heightened immune system, rather than a compromised immune system.

Does the prolonged intensity of a marathon expose you to opportunistic infection, or is it the large crowd and their associated pathogens?

Beyond examining the results of other studies, the researchers propose alternate mechanisms that could account for illness after a vigorous bout of exercise. For example, when running a marathon, is it the prolonged intensity of the exercise or the exposure to a very large crowd (and their associated pathogens) that might make someone potentially ill?

Lastly, the researchers believe that regular exercise might limit or delay immunological aging. This means regular exercise may keep your immune system functioning more efficiently later in life.

In Summary

Fit At Midlife Bottom Line

Studies have shown that regular physical activity including frequent exercise reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases in older age.

Exercise seems to improve resistance to both communicable diseases (viral infections such as the common cold or flu), bacterial infections, and non-communicable diseases such as cancer.

A recent study shows that intense exercise may actually improve immune system function, and in any case does not appear to degrade immune system function. This runs counter to the common belief that intense exercise induces greater vulnerability to sickness.

Therefore, physical activity (including exercise) should be a part of your regular routine for optimal health.