In our healthy-obsessed world, however, it can be hard to know how to do the foundational work of supporting your immunity. Terms such as “immune boost” spiked on Google search results in 2021, the British Medical Journal reports, showing that people are searching for answers.
The good news is, you may already be supporting your immune system if you’re actively working out. Combined with other facets of wellness like adequate sleep, nutrition, vitamin supplements and stress management, exercise can boost immune function in many ways.
Here’s what you need to know about creating an exercise plan to boost your immune health.
How does exercise support immune health?
When paired with adequate sleep, effective stress management, and healthy nutrition, exercise is a valuable tool in boosting your immune health. Here are a few examples:
- Exercise increases blood circulation and lung respiration which helps the body flush out bacteria and other harmful toxins from the airways.
- Exercise can stimulate the flow of white blood cells and antibodies throughout the bloodstream which can help fight the causes of infection.
- Exercise improves mood state and slows the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which helps to mitigate the effects of stress on the body.
- Exercise releases energy in the daytime to promote a more restful sleep at night which helps the body restore its natural immune defenses.
- Exercise reduces metabolic inflammation which can help to lower the risk of some chronic medical issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes, unhealthy weight or heart disease.
How much exercise does the immune system need?
A healthy adult between the ages of 18 and 64 needs about 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This might sound like an unrealistic or overwhelming amount of time, but if you break it down into 30 minutes to an hour of exercise daily, you can see how manageable it is to meet those goals.
If you’re a highly active person who wants a more intense fitness regimen, the Health Department recommends 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. What’s more, 15 minutes of vigorous fitness can yield the same results as 30 minutes of a moderate workout. Whichever you choose, both exercise programs benefit your immunity.
Which exercises are best for immune health?
When creating a workout plan to support immune health and illness prevention, think variety and consistency. Aim to incorporate movement for a minimum of three days a week and weave both cardiovascular and resistance training into your workout.
While cardio activities can increase circulation and respiration, one session of resistance training can lead to musculoskeletal changes that bolster immune strength at a cellular level, the Journal of Immunology Research explains.
To optimize those immune-boosting results, here are some exercise styles to work into your routine.
Immune health exercise plan
High-Intensity Interval Training
Also known as HIIT, this workout style combines both resistance and cardio training in quick bursts of explosive, intense movements for 20 to 60 seconds, followed by rest for the same length of time. These interval circuits repeat for a total of 15 to 20 minutes, during which the muscles work as hard as they can.
The strenuous nature of a HIIT workout can increase oxygen uptake in the lungs, the Sports Medicine Journal reports. This oxygenation boosts cardiovascular and respiratory function, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the metabolism. Some exercises to include in your HIIT workout are:
- Ski jumps
- Mountain climbers
- Russian twists
Moderate level yoga practice
This form of movement is just as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body, which makes it an ideal stress management tool. Yoga’s fusion of deep breaths, gentle postures, and conscious, meditative focus can reduce cortisol in the body which also decreases inflammation and cellular oxidative stress, according to Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
To maximize yoga as a practice for immune health, choose a moderate level flow with poses that activate your muscles and increase your heart rate. Postures that loosen tension, stretch the whole body, and open the chest, like those found in this sequence from The Yoga Journal, are ideal for combating stress and boosting immunity.
Hiking, running or cycling
These cardiovascular exercises not only strengthen immune health but also give you a reason to spend more time outside. Activities such as running, hiking, and cycling provide a wide variety of aerobic benefits like increased blood flow, heart function, lung capacity, and skeletal muscle density, among others, suggests Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.
The positive effects of outdoor cardio exercise are more than just physical. Regular contact with nature can help minimize the risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, inadequate sleep, chronic stress, and emotional imbalance, according to research in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal. Breathe in the fresh air and carve out some time for a hike, run, or bicycle ride outdoors to stay healthy and happy.
Support your immune health with exercise
A consistent exercise routine is just as crucial for immune health as eating nutritious foods, taking daily vitamins, and prioritizing restful sleep. Paired together, you’ll keep your body healthy while feeling mentally stronger, adequately rested, and ready to take on whatever comes next.