For many people, physical activity is the perfect balance between stimulating and relaxing. Some of us just naturally love to be active, whether it’s a game of tennis, chasing the dog around the dog park, clearing the garden of weeds, or a weekend’s worth of camping and hiking.
For others, physical activty is something on the to-do list that keeps us looking, feeling, and performing better. For your body — and your immune system — all the motion and sweat equity of exercise means much more.
How physical activity connects to immunity
- Physical activity keeps the avenues of communication wide open among your brain, muscles, immune cells, and heart, for better stamina, alertness, and protection against disease throughout life.
- Physical activity rewards you with heightened levels of “feel-good” body chemicals that improve your mood, stress response, and sense of well-being, while also helping manage your appetite in a completely natural way.
- Keeping active — especially the sweaty kind of active — helps your body eliminate potentially harmful substances you may be exposed to, keeping you healthier and keeping your liver and immune system attentive to other important challenges. Be sure to stay hydrated, though, and don’t overdo it!
- Physical activity trains your immune system for better balance between its critical offense and defense functions. Over time, you end up more resistant to infection and chronic inflammation.
- Recent research has also found that exercising regularly improves the makeup of microbes in your intestines (your gut microbiome). Since the gut influences your brain, heart, and other vitals, this deep influence may represent one of the main ways that exercise keeps body, mind, metabolism, and immunity running smoothly.
- Enjoying your exertions in natural outdoors settings is an especially effective means of keeping your immunity in peak balance. This way, you get better acquainted with the weather, fresh air, and diversity of plants, animals, and microbes that train your immune cells to recognize and tolerate more of them.
The three basic flavors of exercise
Just about anything that engages your physical effort counts as exercise. Even brisk housework is recognized as contributing to long-term heart health! But exercise comes in three basic flavors, and it’s important to vary your activities so that you get the benefits of each kind.
- Cardio training that increases stamina and strengthens your heart and blood vessels, like cross-country skiing and jogging.
- Muscle strengthening and toning, as with weight-lifting or resistance exercise on a stationary bike.
- Flexibility training keeps muscles, ligaments, and tendons more supple and less prone to injury. Some examples include a strategic stretching sequence that covers all the major muscle groups or an expertly-designed yoga routine.
- Some types of exercise work at multiple levels. Interval training and rowing do a great job of giving a cardio plus muscle workout, and many martial arts emphasize all three aspects of fitness.
For a deeper dive
Be sure to check with your doctor before launching into a new fitness regime, just to make sure it’s right for you. And in case you’re interested, here’s a scientific article that explains how and why exercise helps keep immunity balanced, and by doing so, limits the tendency towards inflammation from aging or lifestyle factors.