Exercise benefits the immune system- but in the current climate, you need to be careful not to overdo it

With all this extra time on your hands, it’s a great time to exercise. There are so many online programs out there at the moment- suddenly everybody is an expert and most people are tempted to make up for lost time. While it all sounds good to do sprints, intervals, burpees etc one needs to consider the risks involved. Overdoing it at best will make you sick of training. Worse, you may become run down, more susceptible to illness and increase your risk of injury. 

Enhanced Immunity

Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems. Regular, moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and will help your immune cells regenerate regularly. Research suggests that exercise’s effects may be directly relevant to virus-fighting, too. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, of 1,002 people surveyed, those who exercised at least five days a week had almost half the risk of coming down with a cold as those who were more sedentary. If they did get one, they reported less severe symptoms. There also may be a protective benefit from the sweat in your sweat session: Research has shown that simply raising your body temperature may help kill germs in their tracks.

Depressed Immunity

However, it’s important to understand that prolonged periods of intensive exercise training can depress immunity. Another recent study reported elite athletes frequently report symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) during periods of heavy training and competition. (See link below) In contrast, the same study reported “single bouts of moderate-intensity exercise are “immuno-enhancing” and have been used to effectively increase vaccine responses in “at-risk” patients. Improvements in immunity due to regular exercise of moderate intensity may be due to reductions in inflammation, maintenance of thymic mass, alterations in the composition of “older” and “younger” immune cells, enhanced immunosurveillance, and/or the amelioration of psychological stress. “ The report goes on to say “Exercise is a powerful behavioural intervention that has the potential to improve immune and health outcomes in the elderly, the obese, and patients living with cancer and chronic viral infections such as HIV.”

Sweet Spot

So, like many other things, there’s a sweet spot where the intensity of exercise is to be beneficial. This will depend on the condition you are in & what type of fitness base you have. For example, a person who has been consistently training will have a much higher VO2 max or aerobic capacity (the ability of the heart and lungs to get oxygen to the muscles) which in turn, will mean they will be able to handle a lot more anaerobic exercise (Without oxygen- intervals, sprints etc) and their recovery etc will be faster. However, they must be careful as because they ‘feel so good’ they will not be able to help themselves and over train. (Very guilty of that one in my heyday).

Whereas somebody who is not very fit will be in oxygen debt (anaerobic) simply walking uphill. There a number of variables. An unfit young person could be doing enough work simply power walking for 30 minutes on the beach. Wheres, a fit over 60-year-old like myself will need to run up the sand dunes to achieve the same effects. So once you are fitter and become too ‘comfortable ‘ with your exercise, its time to gradually increase either the intensity or time working out, increasing your VO2 max as your body adapts. A good guide is to be able to still talk while you are exercising (Although most men may have to learn from women on how to do this?)

Cardio is still king. 

Research shows that moderate exercise can reduce inflammation and promote the healthy turnover of immune cells. Examples of moderate exercise (Aerobic) include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. Plan a rest day each week. Even fit people should try not to do two lots of ‘hard anaerobic’ (without oxygen) sessions back to back. Break it up with longer aerobic or resistance training. 

Top Coach Tips:

  1. Keep an exercise diary
  2. Plan your workouts for the week ahead (Don’t forget to check the weather)
  3. If you are a beginner, train like one, not like you did when you were younger!
  4. Start slow and build up gradually
  5. Program your cardio (Moderate aerobic exercise) the day before or the day after your resistance exercise day (Weights, bodyweight etc) 
  6. Aim for at least 3 ‘cardio’ sessions a week and 2 ‘resistance’ sessions to build strength
  7. Warm-up for your cardio sessions for at least 15 minutes including a balanced core program to avoid injury
  8. Program rest days after days you hit your peaks or your hardest day. 
  9. Never have two days off in a row from exercise. 
  10. Be sceptical who you take your advice from. Do they have experience, results or understands injury prevention?




If you are not sure what to do, email us your proposed program for the week on info@topcoachpt.com.au . 

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