Build Immunity the Active Way

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With COVID-19 making its debut in 2020 and cold and flu season taking its cue this time of year, immunity and prevention are on the forefront of many people’s minds. Cooper Fitness Center Director of Education Carla Sottovia, PhD, shares how to boost your immune system the active way with exercise.

Exercise and your immune system
Exercise is one of the core concepts to leading a healthy lifestyle. Numerous amounts of research have proven exercise’s role in improving heart health, maintaining a healthy body weight and preventing diabetes, cancer and other diseases. While exercise contributes to overall better health, it simultaneously works to protect your immune system by enabling your body to become stronger from the inside out. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise may contribute even more directly to stronger immunity than a healthy diet by promoting good circulation, allowing the immune system’s cells to move throughout your body freely and perform their task efficiently.

“Exercise is a physical stressor that triggers the body to respond like our immune system responds to an invader,” explains Sottovia. “Physical activity triggers acute physiological responses such as increased heart rate, blood flow and the release of hormones and endorphins. If you allow your body the proper rest and recovery, it adapts to the training intensity therefore not only making you stronger physically but more resilient in fighting sickness and disease.”

Inflammation and immunity
“We have an epidemic of inactivity and obesity in the United States today,” says Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, “which is fueling chronic inflammation in many Americans. Remember, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain—including 30 minutes of exercise per day, collective or sustained, most days per week—can effectively reduce chronic inflammation." Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system. The immune system serves as the body’s built-in fighting mechanism designed to protect us against invading chemicals, allergens, physical trauma and illness. “The problem arises when one is inactive and their body is unable to respond effectively to the inflammatory stressors,” says Sottovia. “Inflammation can be caused by stressors including poor nutrition, lack of sleep and emotional stress which can place strain on the body’s immune system, weakening its ability to fight illness and disease.”

Adverse effects of exercise
On the contrary, too much exercise can become harmful to the body and its immune system. According to Sottovia, if someone exercises at high intensities, or more than 90% effort, for prolonged periods of time, the body’s immune system will not be able to keep up with the amount of physical stress being placed on it. This can result in injury or improvement regression such as burn out or muscle weakness and fatigue.

It is important to exercise at moderate to high intensities as well as incorporate proper rest and recovery. Exercising at about 70% effort is ideal in maintaining equilibrium within the body. Sottovia suggests varying your exercise routine daily if possible with different types of activity and different intensity levels, as well as exercising in different environments such as:

  • Outdoors
  • Indoors
  • At a gym
  • In a pool

Variety is key
Allowing variety in your exercise routine is key for building a strong and healthy immune system. Incorporate these types of variations in your training program for optimal results in your training program as well as immune health:

  • Cardio activity – try running, walking, jumping rope or cycling
  • Environment – take your workout outdoors, indoors or to the pool
  • Intensity – alternate between easy, moderate and hard intensity training days
  • Strength training – mix and match different types of resistance with bands, free weights, machines and body weight exercises
  • Recovery – try yoga, stretching, meditation or your favorite self-care activity

While exercise is a vital component to building and maintaining a strong immune system, it is also important to ensure you are eating a balanced diet and supplementing it with the right vitamins for you, getting adequate sleep of at least 7-8 hours per night and  managing your stress levels. These healthy lifestyle habits will enable your body to better fend off COVID-19 as well as other minor and chronic diseases.

For more exercise variation ideas, visit our Health Tips page.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.