Immune health is on our minds these days, which means you’ve probably been seeing lots of supplements, fancy foods, and special drinks touted as effective or natural ways to boost your immunity. The truth is that scientists haven’t found a direct link between lifestyle changes and increased immune capacity, at least not yet. But there are still some intriguing correlations to explore, especially when it comes to exercise.
“Your immune system can improve when you work out,” said Aruna Subramanian, MD, an infectious-disease doctor and clinical medical professor at Stanford. It’s true: though research is still emerging, there’s a link between increased immune health and exercise. One comprehensive 2019 review concluded that moderate to vigorous exercise, done in sessions of less than an hour, has a positive impact on your immune system, that moderate exercise is associated with a decreased risk of illness, and that exercise overall has an anti-inflammatory effect on your body. While the exact connection and reason are still considered inconclusive, working out regularly is clearly helpful to your body’s line of defense.
The same review did note that unusually intense exercise could have the opposite effect, making you more susceptible to illness. In other words, it’s better to stick with a more moderate routine if you’re trying to follow the best path for your immune system, particularly if you’re not used to high-intensity exercise. If you’re a true beginner, start within your abilities and ramp up slowly. (This will also help prevent injuries.)
Exercise is also known to have significant psychological benefits, said Dean Winslow, MD, an infectious-disease doctor at Stanford Health Care, which can itself be good for your immunity. That’s because chronic stress suppresses your immune system by increasing inflammation and creating an emotional strain that keeps you from your usual healthy habits (think: adequate sleep and eating healthy). Exercise of all kinds is recommended to relieve intense stress, another win-win way it can help your immune system.
So while the science is still being sorted out, keeping up your normal fitness routine, or slowly easing into a new one, can certainly be a positive for your immune system and your overall health. Try this month-long at-home workout plan to get started.