Feeling a little under the weather? Exercise is probably the furthest thing from your mind, but it might be just what your body needs. Research shows that light to moderate exercise can boost an athlete’s immune system and help fend off colds and other infections.
“Research is uncovering a link between moderate, regular exercise and a strong immune system,” says exercise physiologist Elizabeth Quinn. She cites recent studies that show a link between exercise and physiological changes in the immune system. “During moderate exercise, immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses,” she explains.
To reap these benefits, one workout session is insufficient. But if you’re an athlete, that should not be a problem! Quinn says, “After exercise ends, the immune system generally returns to normal within a few hours; but consistent, regular exercise seems to make these changes a bit more long-lasting.”
Too much intense exercise, however, may decrease immunity. Quinn says, “This research is showing that more than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise can make athletes susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the session.” This might be more of a concern to marathoners and triathletes, but all young athletes should keep it in mind.
Intense exercise can also be harmful to those who are already ill. Because your immune system is being taxed by the infection, additional stress could jeopardize your recovery. If you’re running a high fever, a day off will do you more good than forcing yourself through a workout. But if your symptoms are those of a common cold, light to moderate exercise might just be what the doctor ordered.