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Multiple studies in humans and animals have demonstrated the profound impact that exercise can have on the immune system. There is a general consensus that regular bouts of short-lasting (i.e. up to 45 minutes) moderate intensity exercise is beneficial for host immune defense, particularly in older adults and people with chronic diseases. Simpson et al, Exercise Immunity Review, 2020

Exercise Keeps Immune System Healthy

Last month we emphasized the importance of regular exercise in fighting the effects of the coronavirus, noting among other factors that it can help boost our immune functions.

I wondered how exercise helps our immune system fight off the virus and decided to look into it.

The latest analysis, published in March of this year in the international journal Exercise Immunity Review, comes from the University of Bath, a public university located in Bath, Somerset, United Kingdom. (Bath colleagues are from Arizona, Australia, Germany, North Carolina, and Liverpool, UK.)

The most layman friendly explanation of the ways exercise improves immune function comes from Bath University Lecturers John P. Campbell and James Turner in The Conversation April 10, 2020.

The immune system has three main lines of defense. Exercise helps maintain the normal function of each of these.

Physical Barriers

The first line of defense is comprised of physical barriers, such as the skin, which stops pathogens (germs, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease) from entering the body. Research has shown that skin wound healing is faster in people who exercise regularly compared to sedentary people. Faster wound healing reduces the risk of bacteria and virus entry in people who are active.

Natural Killer Cells

Natural killer cells are the most responsive immune cells to exercise. For example, during a bout of exercise, white and natural killer cells move into the bloodstream in vast numbers. Following exercise, these cells migrate to sites of inflammation to seek out pathogens and damaged cells. This process may even help our immune system detect cancerous cells.

Memory Immunity

The third line of defense is memory immunity, a type of immune cell that is made in the bone marrow and is found in the blood and in lymph tissue. The two main types are T and B lymphocytes. Exercise also has a profound impact on these cells. Regular exercise helps maintain healthy young T and B lymphocytes, which help the immune system identify and fight off pathogens as we age.

Age Factor

These immune system defenses become more important with each passing year. As we are being told repeatedly, the coronavirus is more dangerous for those of us over 60. Thats because normal immune function tends to fade with age.

Exercise is always helpful, but it takes center stage at 60.

Regular exercise helps bolster immune function in older adults and people with chronic diseases.

All Forms of Exercise

The Bath University researchers tell us that all forms of exercise can be beneficial.

Moderate intensity exercise is generally recommended, but more vigorous aerobic exercise such as running or cycling is also beneficial for immune function. Moreover, if your ability to exercise is limited by health conditions or disability, simply moving more and doing any type of exercise is helpful.

Resistance exercise also has clear benefits such as alleviating psychological distress, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases and in particular maintaining strength, balance and coordination. (Muscle mass and strength augment every part of the body, including the immune system.)

To test exercise and immune function, many studies have used vaccines. Vaccines are one of the best ways to see how the immune system works because it tests the combined ability of many different immune cells to coordinate and produce antibodies. Research administering vaccines after both intense exercise and marathon running shows that antibody responses are not suppressed. Elite athletes who train regularly have higher antibody responses to vaccination than people who do not exercise.

The final words of advice from the Bath University Lecturers:

Given the current circumstances, its important to exercise in isolation and maintain good personal hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands following exercise. Using alcohol-based hand gels may also help prevent viral spread, and avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose. In addition to regular exercise, you should also pay attention to getting a good nights sleep and maintaining a healthy diet to give the body its best chance at fighting off infections.

Bill Reynolds captured muscle flexing in isolation on Sandia Crest high above Albuquerque.

You can read the entire Conversation online: https://theconversation.com/regular-exercise-has-long-term-benefits-for-immunity-its-important-to-stay-active-135836

See also our earlier articles on training during the shutdown: https://www.cbass.com/coronavirus.html and on Exercise and the Immune System: https://www.cbass.com/exerciseStopsAging.html

May 1, 2020

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