The first is that physical activity helps to flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. By increasing your heart and respiratory rates, you are promoting the circulation of immunity-boosting antibodies and white blood cells through the body. The effects of this only last for a few hours after exercise, but during that period the immune boosting cells are able to kill viruses and bacteria.
Another potential reason for the boost in immunity is the temporary rise in body temperature that happens during exercise. It is believed that this process can inhibit the growth of bacteria and enable the body to fight infection more effectively.
Exercise is also great for slowing down the release of stress hormones. These hormones can reduce the body’s immune system and leave it susceptible to infection, so slowing down their production is good for reducing illnesses.
However, it is worth noting that too much exercise can have the opposite effect and increase the chances of contracting illnesses. The key is knowing how much exercise is too much. Research indicates that 90 minutes or more of high-intensity exercise (such as marathon training or endurance races) can leave the body more susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after working out. This is because the body releases a lot of cortisol and adrenaline during high-impact aerobic activity that raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels and temporarily weakens the immune system.
A good rule of thumb is to stick to a moderate exercise regime during the winter months, such as:
- 30 minutes of walking every day
- Working out at the gym every other day
- 60-minute bike ride at the weekend
- Swimming for 30 minutes a couple of times a week
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