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By: Lisa Payne

Regular exercise keeps us strong, happy and healthy. It decreases the chances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and many types of cancer. It also helps boost cognition, better sleep, digestion, increased sex drive and – you guessed it – immune health. But while we know exercise does make us healthier, you may not know exactly what effect exercise has on the immune system.

Here are 5 positive effects of moderate exercise on the immune system.

**Please consult your licensed healthcare professional before making major changes to your diet or exercise routine.**

How Exercise Affects the Immune System

Reduces Stress Hormones

Workouts increase the production of endorphins. By doing so, it can lower stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When stress hormones are lowered, endorphins are stimulated, which in addition to helping boost your mood, can help lower blood pressure, improve sleep and protect immune functioning.

Causes a Humoral and Cellular Immune Response

Regular exercise can promote infection protection caused by intracellular microorganisms through a prevalence of Th1 cells. Th1 cells defend against intracellular viral and bacterial pathogens.  

What this means is that regular exercise may reduce risk for the incidence of communicable illnesses like bacterial and viral infections. Because exercise helps to open up the lungs and airways, and increases circulation and body temperature, it may help ward off infections.

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exercise and immunity

Creates a Higher Range of Gut Micro-Organisms

According to one study that compared the effect of exercise and diet on gut microbiota of athletes, there was a higher range of gut micro-organisms of 22 different phyla.2  Microbiota biodiversity can help maintain healthy immune function. Gut microbiome are the microbes in your intestine are crucial to your short and long-term health.

While regular moderate intensity exercise improves overall health and reduces risk for disease and illness, some studies show that strenuous exercise can cause immune suppression. Endurance training and extreme athletic training can break down the immune system by reducing the amount of white blood cells leading to illness. But these types of training combined with adequate rest and nutrition can reduce the risk of getting sick.

With any moderate or vigorous exercise program, maintain a healthy immune system with a nutritious diet, quality sleep, stress management skills and workout recovery efforts. Whether your goals are to lose weight, gain muscle mass or to finish a marathon, balance is the key to staying healthy.

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References

1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5911985/

Campbell, John P, and James E Turner. “Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan.” Frontiers in Immunology, Frontiers Media S.A., 16 Apr. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5911985/.

2 - https://gut.bmj.com/content/63/12/1913 Clarke, Siobhan F, et al. “Exercise and Associated Dietary Extremes Impact on Gut Microbial Diversity.” Gut, BMJ Publishing Group, 1 Dec. 2014, gut.bmj.com/content/63/12/1913.