by Sally Whitaker
Although we can get sick any time of year, the winter months can be especially hard, leaving most of us looking for ways to avoid illness. Exercise can be beneficial to building your immune system and there are many forms of exercise to choose from.
During cold and flu season taking a walk is more than just exercise. It can also help protect you from getting sick. A Harvard Medical School study found that “of over 1,000 men and women [found that] those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.” All the more reason to add a walk around the neighborhood to your daily routine!
Consistency and moderation is key when it comes to strength training and the immune system. While a sporadic and/or an overly strenuous weight training program can be taxing to the immune system, a program of lifting several times a week and building at a gradual pace may have positive effects on your immunity. Moderate weight training reduces overall stress, allowing your body to produce more of the infection fighting white blood cells our bodies need to fight germs and stay healthy.
Practicing yoga, even just once a week, can have positive effects on your immune system. As mentioned above, the stress relief builds germ-fighting white blood cells. Additionally, the breath work in yoga—emptying and filling the lungs—helps to keep stale air from lingering in the lungs, which promotes respiratory health. Deep breathing can decrease stress and increase energy levels, which in turn boosts the immune system helping you to get and stay well.
A medical study published in “The Aging Cell” found that exercise, specifically cycling, can protect the immune system. The study compared the T-cell counts of 125 adult cyclists between the ages 55-79 to people the same age, and younger, who did not exercise regularly. T-cells are known to help the immune system fight infection and tend to diminish as we age. The cyclists not only had higher T-cell activity than people their age but were producing the same level of the infection-fighting cells as young adults.
Making time to add physical activity to your daily life is beneficial to more than just your waistline. Adding even 20 minutes of your favorite activity each day can help you fight infection and stay healthy.
You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs. Do not start this fitness program if your physician or health care provider advises against it. If you experience faintness, dizziness, pain or shortness of breath at any time while exercising you should stop immediately.
Sally Whitaker is a Pilates and Yoga instructor with 15 years of experience teaching group classes and private clientele, primarily in Independence. During the summer months, you can find her teaching Sunset Yoga at Armstrong Park in Grain Valley.