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Move towards Immunity

How keeping active strengthens the immune system

The immune system is the body’s main tool of defense against the billions of potentially harmful microorganisms that constantly surround us. It is composed of a network of organs, blood vessels and cells that work together to make sure that any harmful invaders that enter the body are quickly identified and eliminated.

Thus, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that all of us take extra steps to make sure that our immune systems are well supported and ready to face any battle!

What are the concrete ways that we can boost our immunity?

Commonly practiced methods are eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and managing stress levels. However, did you know that getting the right amount of exercise is equally as important? The benefits of physical activity reach far beyond just lowering our waistlines. It is scientifically proven that the amount of movement that we incorporate in our daily lives has a profound effect on our ability to combat disease.

What happens when we move?

Exercise stimulates an increase the bodily production of a special group of cells called leukocytes. These act like tiny policemen that have the ability to spot and kill harmful microbes. They travel around the body via our blood and lymphatic vessels. Thus, the more we improve our blood circulation through exercise, the faster these mini-sheriffs can conduct wide-spread surveillance.

According to existing studies, physical activity is associated with an increased ability to fight and survive diseases such as influenza and pneumonia. Scientists have also found that individuals who engage in regular exercise are 40-50% less likely to acquire an upper respiratory tract infection compared to those who are mainly sedentary.

This percentage is much greater than the levels of improvement reported by most medications and vitamin supplements.

But wait, there's more! 

Another way that exercise helps immune system is by curbing stress. Prolonged stress causes an overproduction of stress hormones and inflammatory molecules which create a toxic internal environment that severely dampens our immunity.

At present, due to the consequences of social distancing and home isolation, a steep rise in worldwide levels of anxiety, depression and even self-harm is expected.

Therefore, we must all be pro-active in terms of managing our mental health. If you are feeling lonely and blue, consider using exercise to help boost your mood! As we sweat and get our hearts pumping, more oxygen is delivered to the brain, leading to better function of areas that control our memory and mood states.

We also produce more serotonin and dopamine which are well known as the body’s “happy hormones”. Ultimately, this means that the more we move, the happier we become and the stronger our infection-fighting ability gets.

How much is too much?

Although exercise is beneficial for our health, we must be careful not to over-exert ourselves as this could have a detrimental effect on our immune system. As previously mentioned, the right amount of moderate exercise cuts our risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections by half.

However, if we push ourselves too much, we can increase our risk of getting sick by up to six-fold. Thus, if you’re concerned about your immunity, maybe this isn’t the best time to train for that 42km marathon.

The general recommended amount of physical activity is around 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least 5 times a week. Don’t worry too much if you find it difficult to reach the suggested guidelines. No matter how simple the exercise that you’ve chosen, it will still provide some health benefits.

Staying healthy at home

Now that we must all spend most of our time at home, it is important that we don’t fall into the tempting trap of too much Netflix and chill. COVID-19 wants us to become couch potatoes! But together, we will not let this virus beat us.

Whether it be going out for a solo run, doing body weight exercises at home with the family or opting to join an online fitness class with friends, there are still many ways for us to exercise safely during these challenging times.

We at Muna Osteopathy encourage everyone to take active control of their health by staying calm, being optimistic and doing what you can to move towards better immunity!

Written by: Isabel Tan

References:    

1.     NIH (Internet). Bethesda MD (USA): National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; c2013. Overview of the immune system; 2013 Dec 30 [cited 2020 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/immune-system-overview
2.     Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8:201-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009
3.     WHO (Internet). Copenhagen (Denmark): World Health Organisation; c2020. Mental health and COVID-19; 2020 [cited 2020 Apr 4]. Available from: http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-technical-guidance/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-outbreak-technical-guidance-europe/mental-health-and-covid-19
4.     Sharma AS, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106. doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
5.     Beyond Blue (Internet). Victoria (Australia): Beyond Blue; c2019. Exercise your way to wellbeing; 2019 [cited 2020 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/personal-best/pillar/supporting-yourself/exercise-your-way-to-good-mental-health