Your immune system works 24/7 to wrangle all the germs you unconsciously infect yourself with. But it could do a better job to build immunity if you’d maybe take a walk once in a while. Exercise gives your immune system temporary superpowers. It cleans you out, circulates antibodies, warms you up, and chills you out.
Caveat: the author is not a medical professional.
Physical Activity Will Pump You . . . Out?
Exertion is like a chimney sweep for your lungs. The harder you exercise, the harder you breathe. The lungs are lined with tiny hairs, called micro cilia, pushing up through a layer of mucus. This layer protects the lungs from the myriad stank particles we breathe in daily. The mucus captures a bad particle, the cilia push it out. According to a study published in Respiratory Care in 2015, aerobic exercise increases the mucociliary speed by shortening saccharine transit time (the time it takes for a bad particle to be expelled). This means the gunk you breathe in gets out faster. That’s a good thing. The most effective path to immunity is eliminating germs quickly.
Exercise Builds Better Immunity by Blasting Antibodies
White blood cells (WBCs) are the body’s immunity armed forces. They are constantly patrolling your circulatory system looking for trouble. When they detect an issue, they attack. Exercise moves blood through the veins and arteries more rapidly, giving your WBCs more opportunities to battle bacteria. This means your system is less vulnerable because it’s getting flushed more, meaning fewer WBC boots on the ground. Which sounds counterintuitive–aren’t more WBCs better for you? Nope. Elevated WBC counts are associated with an increased risk of coronary disease and death.
Working Out Makes You Hotter
Exercise raises your body temperature which ruins it for bacteria. They hate a warm climate. They’re like your picky co-worker who practically lives by the office thermostat because it’s too hot. Or too cold. Bacteria and viruses can only live within a narrow temperature range. Most pathogens are mesophiles and can handle a range between 68° and 113°. This means the human body is a nearly perfect environment for growth. We’re the biodome and they’re Pauly Shore.
However, you’re unlikely to hit 113° and even less absurd temperature spikes are not particularly good for your carcass. A temp makes your insides more tropical, but there’s a second benefit. This thermal spike puts your immune system in high alert. According to a paper in the Journal of Sports Medicine, “Regular monocytes are strongly recruited into the circulation during long-term aerobic exercise . . .” Monocytes are new WBC that haven’t specialized. They adapt quickly to deal with intrusive biotics-which is exactly what happens when you get a fever. When your temp rises, your WBC army goes on patrol.
Exercise Reduces Stress
Stress is associated with an increased chance of illness so reducing stress puts the body in a better condition to fight pathogens. During exercise, the body produces cortisol which prevents the release of substances in the body which can cause inflammation. It also releases prolactin which, among the nearly 300 functions it helps in the body, regulates the immune system and seems to initiate the release of dopamine–which, oddly, is a prolactin inhibitor. Dopamine is often thought of as the “chemical of pleasure,” but recent opinions in pharmacology indicate dopamine is more complex and instead of causing pleasure directly, it instead confers motivational salience. It makes your goal seem worthy and achievable. Which makes you less anxious about it. Which is highly motivating. Which fades your stress.
So get out there and jog, or walk, do functional exercise, or commit yoga. Just get your body moving, push it a little, get your heart to beat faster, and push the mercury higher. It will flush out your pipes, murder a lot of germs, and generally make you happier.Image © iStockphoto