Everyday Immune Booster: Movement & Exercise
By Cate Reade, MS, RD, SFS ~
For our immune system to function well, it needs to communicate with every cell in our whole body. Our circulatory system is the superhighway that transports immune cells, messages and responses throughout our body. Movement and exercise are key to boost circulation and optimize the crosstalk between cells to boost immune resilience. (1, 2).
Our immune system is always busy scanning and defending our body against infections, illness and disease. It consists of a vast network of cells, tissues and organs that are patrolling, protecting and coordinating defenses against health threats from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens encountered daily (3).
To protect our body, immune cells are constantly sampling substances that enter. When a suspicious character is detected, messenger molecules are released to put the immune system on high-alert and stimulate the proper response. This is similar to when we have a health emergency and immediately call 911; the faster this message travels throughout the body, the quicker the immune system can kick into action.
Once alerted, a cascade of immune soldiers is deployed including but not limited to, natural killer cells, neutrophils, T-cells and B-cells which are stimulated to produce antibodies. Each immune soldier plays a critical role to deal with the infection and keep us healthy (4).
We can give our immune system a helping hand by exercising and moving more throughout the day. Consistent movement and exercise have a profound impact on enhancing our immune response to pathogenic invaders (5). Physical activity boosts circulation, the number of immune cells, surveillance capabilities and overall function (4).
The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and a vital part of the immune system, consisting of vessels and nodes that span the entire body. This system transports lymph fluid and immune cells to and from sites of infection. It also carries bacteria and other harmful invaders to the lymph nodes that are packed with immune cells ready to fight off and destroy unwelcomed visitors (6).
One of the most important functions of the lymph nodes is to support communication between immune cells and defend against invaders (7). Immune cells in lymph nodes are constantly listening for immune signals from around the body (7). Lymph nodes act as filters, trapping and destroying invaders to protect other body parts. When fighting a viral or bacterial infection, you may notice your lymph nodes get swollen, particularly in your neck, under your chin, armpits or groin.
Each node has lymphatic and blood vessels, allowing immune cells to enter and exit (7). Here is where circulation comes into play again. While our blood vessels have help from the heart, our lymphatic system depends on muscles contracting to pump and move those fluids around the body. Exercise and motion boost lymphatic flow, immune function and our well-being.
Aging, Exercise & Immunity
As we age, our immune system changes and isn’t as robust, leaving us more susceptible to infection and disease. This process is called immunosenescence. The great news is recent research shows that habitual exercise has the power to improve immune function and delay the onset of immunosenescence (4).
How much and how long to exercise depends on your level of fitness and health. If you feel great and don’t have an immune challenge or infection, exercise to the point where you feel the “exercise high” experienced from the release of endorphins which also has a profound effect on immune cells like natural killer cells, T- and B-cells (4).
The fitter you become, so does your immune system! Overtraining leaves you feeling fatigued and can depress immune function so don’t overdo it. Respect your body and listen to what it is telling you.
If you are fighting an infection, be careful not to fatigue yourself. Exercise produces free radicals and burns up more antioxidants in your system which steals these nutrients from your immune system, dampening immune function. If you are feeling or getting sick, movement at a comfortable pace can be helpful. A few minutes of joint circles, gentle yoga, walking, or seated exercise will circulate immune messengers to help boost your body’s defense systems.
If you are sick, rest is best. If you feel up to it, simply moving your joints in circles or a slow walk around your room or home can be beneficial.
With COVID-19 and stay at home orders, most of us have been sitting more at the computer or television. This lack of circulation and blood flow dampens our immune resilience leaving us more susceptible to getting sick. These days, more than ever, when I am sitting at home, I find myself relying on my MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer to move my ankles, knees and hips in all directions to improve circulation, muscle strength and joint range of motion for better balance.
If you are ready to boost your immune function, strength and balance at the same time, we are offering free virtual exercise classes through the month of June and our lowest pricing on our MoveMor™ Mobility Trainers. To find out more, contact Cate at info@MoveMor.com or 303.515.7070.
Your health is our number one priority and we would love to see you and MoveMor™ together!
Cate Reade, MS, RD, SFS is a Registered Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist on a mission to improve functional mobility and health span utilizing the power of lifestyle medicine. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. Today, as CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer, she develops programs that target joint flexibility, strength and balance deficits to help older adults fall less and live more. Cate instructs MoveMor™ exercise classes and speaks with healthcare professionals locally and nationally about mobility, lifestyle and fall prevention solutions so people can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Contact Cate at 303.515.7070 or Cate@MoveMor.com.
- Randolph, GJ, et al (2017). The Lymphatic System: Integral Roles in Immunity. Annu Rev Immunol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551392/
- Jones, AW & Davison, G (2018). Exercise, Immunity, and Illness. Muscle and Exercise Physiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7149380/
- Nicholson, LB, (2016). The Immune System. Essays Biochem. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5091071/
- Nieman, DC & Wentz, LM (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. J. Sport Health Sci. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6523821/
- da Luz Scheffer, D & Latini A (2020). Exercise-induced immune system response: Anti-inflammatory status on peripheral and central organs. Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7188661/