Since the beginning of the pandemic, improving the health and strength of our immune system has been on everyone’s mind. When scientists and health experts pointed out that regular exercise helps improve immune function, runners collectively breathed a sigh of relief, but how effective is exercise really? Recent research reveals that while presenting some Protection from infection, exercise is not a panacea for all illnesses, and overdoing it can actually have the opposite effect.
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Researchers note that there is a general consensus that regular bouts of short-term (up to 45 minutes) moderate-intensity exercise are beneficial for immune defense, especially in the elderly and people with chronic diseases. By contrast, they added, high-performance athletes have significantly higher morbidity, second only to injury in the number of training days lost during a season.
The goal of this review, published by the Society for the Advancement of Sports Medicine, was to determine why high-performance athletes get sick more often than the general population, and to determine how much exercise actually improves immune function by analyzing everything. From the available literature on this topic.
Exercise and immune function
When reviewing the research, it is undeniable that regular bouts of moderate to vigorous physical activity are beneficial to the normal functioning of the immune system, likely helping to reduce (though not completely eliminate) the risk of respiratory diseases and some types of cancer. This is because with each session of physical activity, you increase the frequency of exchange of immune cells between the blood and other tissues. Experts believe this likely contributes to enhanced immune control, improved health, and reduced risk of disease.
Whether athletes are more susceptible to disease and infection is still a matter of debate among scientists, but those on both sides agree on one thing: “Factors such as stress, sleep, nutrition, daily imbalance, and infection/vaccination history can directly or They contribute to poor immunity and infection risk, particularly in situations where exposure to pathogens is more likely.”
In other words, it may not be that large amounts of intense exercise directly reduce the performance of your immune system, but the extra stress on your body, combined with other lifestyle factors, can put you at a higher risk of disease.
How can runners protect the immune system?
Runners, even if they are not elite or high-performance athletes, are more likely to fall into that risk group because of the amount of running they do. Running multiple days each week can affect your body, even if you’re not at an elite level.
Does this mean you should stop running? No, running is still good for your immune system, as long as you take care of your body and recover properly. Take a look at this graph Michael Gleeson, Professor of Exercise Biochemistry at Loughborough University (UK):
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You see, reducing your risk of illness and infection requires a multifaceted approach, and while exercise isn’t a bulletproof vest, it can do wonders for your immune system. However, if you are training for a goal sprint and doing a lot of volume or high intensity work, you need to take extra care and make sure you manage your stress load and recover properly. This will reduce the number of training days you have to miss due to illness, and allow you to continue running well.