The role of the immune system in our body is quite pivotal, and ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, this has become a much-discussed topic. The body’s immune system is a network of cells, organs, and proteins that work together to protect it against infections.
The two main parts of the immune system are the innate immune system, which is present since birth, and the acquired or adaptive immune system, which develops as a response to an infection or vaccination. These systems work together and take on different tasks to act as the body’s defense system.
A lot of research has been done to understand the short-term and long-term effects of exercise on the immune system. Your body identifies exercises that raise your heart rate for a sustained period, like a 30-minute jog or brisk walk, as a stressor. In response to this stressor, it releases specific types of white blood cells such as neutrophils and lymphocytes. The former cells check for signs of microbial infections and respond to attack of pathogens, and the latter ones defend the body against pathogens and produce substances that help in activating parts of the immune system into your bloodstream. So, the levels of these specialized white blood cells in the blood increases during the workout. However, after the workout the levels of these cells begin to reduce, even going below the resting levels.
Performing regular exercises like running can eventually improve the immune surveillance process. The immune system boost may be temporary, but it can occur following each exercise session. So, the more often you exercise, the more you experience these beneficial effects.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that individuals, who performed aerobic exercise for five or more days a week, had lower instances of upper respiratory tract infections over a period of 12 weeks.
Tips to maintain your immune health while running:
1. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of both, spread through the week. Research suggests that moderate to vigorous intensity that lasts less than 60 minutes per bout improves immune defense activity and overall metabolic health. In contrast, high exercise training load is linked with alteration in immune function, oxidative stress and increased illness risk. However, the risk of illness is also a function of nutritional deficiency, psychological stress, recovery and physical wellbeing.
2. Along with regular physical activity, nutrition plays a key role in your overall health. Make sure that you fuel your runs well. Eat a well-balanced diet to meet your macronutrient requirements and get all the essential vitamins and minerals. For instance, getting adequate Vitamin C can help in protecting you against free radicals that are produced when you go through intense workouts.
3. Research shows that glycogen depletion can stress the immune system. So, it is important to drink a carbohydrate beverage as soon as you finish your workout or at least within 30 minutes of completing the activity.
4. Consumption of water is essential to maintain blood plasma within healthy levels. Ensure that you hydrate well before, during, and after your runs, as dehydration can stress the immune system.
5. Sleeping well every day can help you recover well from your workouts. The general recommendation for adults is to sleep for seven to nine hours.
6. Psychological stress is also known to negatively impact your body. If you find yourself experiencing the common symptoms of stress such as frequent bouts of anxiety, restlessness, and fatigue, identify its cause. Stress can also impact your running performance. Practicing stress management techniques like meditation or gentle massages can help you feel lighter.
The normal guideline for staying healthy if you are a beginner is to run 20–30 minutes about five times a week. Moreover, it is advisable to complement this activity by taking adequate rest and following a proper diet.
(Vikas Singh, Founder and CEO, Fitpage)