Washing your hands, not touching your face and disinfecting are all great ways to reduce your risk of getting sick. Something you may be doing already is also a great way to keep your immune system in top condition so it can better fight off all viruses: working out.
"One of the best things people can do for their immune health is to exercise most days of the week,” says David Nieman, DrPH, PACSM, professor of biology at Appalachian State University. In one of his studies examining lifestyle factors (including stress, sleep, and diet), exercise was No. 1 at reducing illness.
Of course, working out alone will not magically prevent or treat illness but regular, moderate-intensity physical activity of 45 minutes, five days a week, is beneficial for immunity and helps reduce the risk of respiratory infections.
During a workout, the muscle contractions and increased blood flow encourage the function and circulation of our body’s natural killer cells. “This improves their ability to detect and kill pathogens and viruses,” Nieman explains. Your immune functions return to normal two to three hours post-workout but working out regularly adds up, making you more resilient to viruses and helping if you do get sick.
In a study in 2011, Neiman followed 1,000 people during the fall and winter for 12 weeks to monitor if they came down with the common cold. Individuals who worked out five or more days a week experienced a 43-percent reduction in the number of total days sick, and their symptoms were less severe.
If you are just getting back into a fitness regimen, it’s important to acknowledge your fitness level and keep in mind that everybody is different. You should never jump straight from being mostly inactive into a demanding, highly intense fitness program. If you are new or returning to exercise, ease into a workout plan that your body can handle without risking burn out.
"The immune system needs exercise to do its job better,” says Nieman. “The result is reduced likelihood of getting sick, reduced infection days, or reduced symptom severity— so you can get out there for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week and know you are improving the ability of your immune system to help fend off illness.”
At the Y, we have plenty of options to exercise safely, including outdoor fitness centers and group exercise classes, lap swimming, virtual fitness classes and more. Boost your immunity while staying active! Get started today and plan your next workout here.