Want to build a robust immune system? Even 20 minutes of exercise can help

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exercise-immune-system(NaturalHealth365) As many people have noticed over the past year, government and public health officials talk almost exclusively about handwashing, staying home, socially distancing, wearing masks, shuttering businesses, and more recently lining up for the COVID-19 vaccine as a way to combat the pandemic.  Many also noticed these officials continually moved the goal post while doing so — from “don’t wear a mask” to “80 percent Americans need to get the vaccine to fight COVID.”

However you feel about these enforced measures, one thing is clear to the more health-conscious among us: the fact that officials aren’t talking about healthy lifestyle habits as a way to support a stronger immune system is an egregious oversight.  Stellar among these good for you habits that people should do more of is exercise — and a study reveals it might not even take as much as you’d think.

Short bouts of daily exercise can do wonders for your immune system

In a paper published in the March 2017 volume of Brain, Behavior and Immunity, a team of researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine begins by acknowledging that regular exercise is known to offer anti-inflammatory effects.  For their study, however, the team wanted to assess the effects of acute bouts of exercise on the immune system’s inflammatory responses.

To conduct their analysis, the researchers asked 47 people to spend 20 minutes walking on a treadmill at a moderate intensity level.  The researchers then took blood samples before and immediately after exercise sessions to determine if there were any changes to their immune systems after such a short amount of time.

The results confirmed their hypothesis: even a relatively short bout of aerobic exercise would yield immune-supportive benefits in the body.

Specifically, the short bout of exercise yielded a 5 percent decrease in the number of cells that produce immune molecules called cytokines.

Cytokines, including tumor necrosis factors (TNF), are proteins that have important roles in the body, such as killing damaged or cancerous cells. While you might think that reducing the amount of cancer-fighting cells in the body only spells bad news, the truth is TNF, and other cytokines are also pro-inflammatory — and having too many of them in your system (which may be caused by things like chronic stress) can contribute to disease.

Remember the phrase “cytokine storm?”  This is an excessive, over-the-top inflammatory response experienced by some severely ill patients with COVID-19.  This excessive immune system reaction gone haywire is exactly what we want to avoid as our bodies fight infection — and something which the UCSD researchers believe exercise can help with.

They postulate that the lowered “inflammatory responses during acute exercise may protect against chronic conditions with low-grade inflammation” and further hypothesize that the exercise-induced release of catecholamine hormones like epinephrine and dopamine could drive the anti-inflammatory effect.

Wait, there is more!  These five lifestyle habits also lower inflammation

One takeaway from this research is that something is better than nothing at all when it comes to exercise.  And even at just 20 minutes of moderately intense exercise per day, you’re nearly hitting the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes per week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to staying active, let’s recall the other things you can do to fight inflammation, support your immune health, and keep you safer from contagious (or chronic) disease:

  1. Maintain a normal body weight (as excess body fat is shown to promote inflammation)
  2. Eat anti-inflammatory foods, such as those featured in the Mediterranean diet
  3. Get the recommended 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night
  4. Limit your alcohol intake
  5. Manage your stress (hard but not impossible, even during a global crisis)

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