Immunity boosting has been an on-trend topic for the last few years and will continue to be in light of the pandemic. Many people look to external sources to boost their immune resiliency but most often the best, easiest and most cost-effective thing you can do is add a little movement and exercise.
Immune System First Responders
Imagine your immune system as the police and paramedics of your body. They protect you from the bad guys (bacteria and viruses among a multitude of other nasties) and help bring aid to the parts of the body that need it. They are always on patrol in your body and vigilant. When you’re chronically stressed, not eating a nourishing diet or not dedicating time for rest and rejuvenation (or all the above), some of your police and paramedics go on strike. If you continue living in that fashion, they may not ever come back to work. This is where you put yourself at risk of communicable diseases (flu, respiratory infections etc) or the beginnings of non-communicable disease like diabetes and heart disease. Your immune response has become weakened and depleted and unable to fight off the bad guys which gives them a greater ability to spread disease and wreak havoc in your body.
Exercise & Immune System
The amazing part of the human body is you can recall the police and paramedics that we have lost. Stress, malnourishment and overworking the body affect EVERY system in your body and how well your brain functions mentally and emotionally. The other thing that affects all those systems and psychology is exercise.
When you are stressed, you have a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Most of the time stress is less likely to be a physical threat and more of a psychological or emotional threat. Regardless of the stressor your body will release the same hormones; adrenaline and cortisol to name a few. Exercise when you’re feeling stressed is an excellent way to constructively use up those hormones. If you don’t, you run risk of letting them roam free in your body for the police and paramedics to decide what to do with them. This is why you are likely to get sick when you are stressed, over-worked and malnourished. Your first responders are not being fed or rested and not only have to deal with excess hormones in your system from you, but also from the bad outsiders always waiting for a chance to take hold and spread.
How much exercise is good for U?
Too little or too much exercise will also negatively impact our immune system. This is where we take the letter U and flip it upside down. This is an easy way to think about our exercise capacity as well as our stressor capacity.
When we consider our level of nourishment from our food as well as how much work we do in a day we can begin to find our optimal exercise level. This will be different for everyone. If you currently run 30km a week, have optimum nutrition and balance your rest with your work, you may already be sitting in the optimal state for your body. If you want to start to push for a personal best time in your next race and eating into your recovery you may find yourself more susceptible to communicable diseases in the short term. You are pushing your first responders beyond their limit to aid you.
On the flipside if you would rather a Netflix marathon and barely make 7000 steps a day you don’t need to start with a marathon to be optimal on the curve. You will need to incrementally increase your level of activity and balance that with other aspects of your life.
Key Questions in maintaining the optimal U
When there isn’t a one size fits all prescription for exercise to boost immunity (I promise you there really isn’t), there are key questions to ask yourself to help you find your optimal. Some of these are:
- Is my current health status optimal for daily living now and in the future?
- What am I prepared to sacrifice to facilitate change? Time? Money? Chocolate?
- Do I need external support systems to help me achieve these goals?
- Why do I want to achieve optimal health and immunity?
- What exercise or movement do I like to do?
These questions are important for self-reflection and long-term change for any goal you may have. The important thing to remember is no matter how close or far you are to achieving optimal immunity through exercise, you will always be closer to it if you start today.
Written by Vanessa Leone for Equilibrando Wellness.