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Our body is equipped with a proficient immune system that defends us from the dangers of foreign bodies hence preventing the onset of many a diseases. But this immune system tends to get lethargic if not given the appropriate boost.
So how does one boost the immune system? Yes, there are medications one can take but that is not the healthy route now is it?

The healthy way to go about doing this is to exercise. We all are aware that exercise is good for our body but we know little of the benefits of exercise on our immune system.

This does not mean that you should log in several hours at the gym to fight off diseases or common ailments because anything in excess is bad, and this is undoubtedly true when it comes to working out as well.

So how does a good workout boost immune system?

Intense exercise can indeed reduce immunity and research proves true. Studies show that those who perform high-intensity exercise for more than 90 minutes are more susceptible to illness within 72 hours after the workout. This is because during intense physical exertion, the body tends to produce certain stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones cause the immune system to lower its function.

Exercise helps by either providing an outlet for the nervous energy produced by stress or by taking one’s mind off the environment or situation that produce stress.

During exercise there seems to be a physiological change in the immune system. This is because the production of macrophages is enhanced and they circulate through the body more rapidly hence are better able to attack bacteria and viruses.

Another perspective is that exercise helps the cardiovascular system by improving blood flow and flushing away toxins from muscles and organs, this in turn helps remove the foreign bodies and circulate antibodies.

Exercise also raises the body temperature which is important in the killing of germs and viruses. This increases the body’s response to cold or flu.

Hence it is imperative that moderate and considerate exercise is the key to boosting the immune system. Research is being carried on in this field and studies have shown that those who run as a form of recreation are less likely to catch a cold and those who did not.

No doubt after exercise the immune system tends to return back to its normal state but exercising regularly produces a cumulative effect that results in long term immune response.

So what are the different exercises that can help improve your body's defense against different illnesses?

Cardiovascular exercises

Simple exercises like walking, jogging, running, aerobic dancing, cycling, swimming as well as skilled sports like tennis, football, basketball are all forms of cardiovascular exercises that improve blood circulation and build up stamina. They optimize the function of white blood cells and helps destroy foreign bacteria and viruses which are responsible for the occurrence of many illnesses.

Weight training

Don’t be aghast, it doesn’t mean lifting heavy weights. It is the lifting of light to moderately heavy weights for a particular time in regular intervals. This routine form of exercise helps build your bone and muscle strength and prevents the onset of conditions like back pain, knee pain, osteoarthritis, etc.

Consistency is the key

These exercises when done regularly help increase the levels of serotonin in the body. High levels of serotonin are associated with decreased pain, depression and stress whereas low levels causes mental lethargy and weakens your immune system. This is a direct effect of regular exercises.

On the other hand, exercising regularly can enhance the immune system indirectly. We say this because most people engage in exercise in order to improve their body image. This boost the confidence which in turn helps reduce stress and boost the immune system.

Whether the effect is direct or indirect it is imperative to exercise consistently in moderation rather than exercising one day in a week and slouching on the couch for the next six days. Regularity is the key to optimum health and well-being.
Nutritional supplements

The use of energy or carbohydrate drinks like Gatorade or protein supplements give the immune system a serious boost only
if they are administered at the right time.

A common malpractice is that drinking these drinks before a workout can help enhance your strength and endurance, but the truth is (and research backs it) that these pre-workout carbohydrate drinks or supplements provide no stimulation to the immune system.

Therefore the ideal time to consume these supplements or drinks would be at the end of the workout. This is due to the fact that after a workout the body is in a state of damage and the immune system has been tampered with. When the cells of the body are exhausted and damaged they release free radicals which roam the system so the supplements provide the necessary carbs to bring the immune system back on track and hence destroy the free radicals.

If consumption of supplements post workout can benefit the system then why not during the workout? This is a thought provoking question and there is no doubt that consumption during a workout does help the body get rid of the damaged cells and boost the immune system.

Eat for a great immune system 


Carbohydrate intake not only fuels your muscles, it also reduces the rise of stress hormones in the body, delays the onset of fatigue hence playing an important role in immune function.

Amino Acids and Proteins

Recent research suggests that amino acids like cysteine and theanine boosts recovery after intense physical activity. Yet another research on athletes shows that these two amino acids helped prevent inflammation caused due to intense exercise, reduce symptoms of infection and maintain proper immune function.

Another amino acid L-citrulline also known as citrulline is shown to have an effect on white blood cell function which usually declines after a strenuous workout. Citrulline also acts as a workout recovery supplement by preventing post-exercise fatigue and muscle soreness experienced after exercise.

Directly taking protein supplements helps your immune system fight against foreign pathogens because the antibodies in our body are primarily made up of amino acids and proteins.

Vitamins and Minerals

Boosting your daily dose of vitamins and minerals during and after periods of training enhances the immune system. These nutrients are critical in replicating the immune cells and hence warding off disease causing pathogens.


Dehydration was known to be associated with negative mood and impaired attention. Water is essential during and after workouts and the scarcity of this essential element in our body affects mood and mental performance.

  • Proc Nutr Soc. 2010 Aug,69(3):390-9. Epub 2010 Jun 23. "Physical activity, immunity and infection."
  • Romeo J, Warnberg J, Pozo T, Marcos A., Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul, 32(7 Suppl):S369-76. "Chronic exercise training effects on immune function." Mackinnon LTPhoto courtesy of Candida.Performa by Flickr :