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Get moving. Intense exercise routines boost your immunity levels

A new study has debunked a nearly four-decade old myth that strenuous exercise such as marathon running suppresses the immune system. This study shows that such intense workouts may actually boost your immunity.

fitness Updated: Apr 21, 2018 16:56 IST
Soma Das
Soma Das
Hindustan Times
Heavy exercise,Health,Wellness
It has been a nearly four-decade old myth that strenuous exercise suppresses the immune system.(Shutterstock)

While it is a common belief that heavy exercise such as marathon running or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can adversely affect the body, recent research proves that it is not so. A study conducted by the Department for Health at the University of Bath debunked a nearly four-decade old myth that strenuous exercise suppresses the immune system. This follows on earlier research that indicated that intense exercise can even delay onset of Parkinson’s Disease and just two weeks of high-intensity exercise could reduce glucose metabolism. Such workouts also help you get results way faster.

In a detailed analysis of research articles published since the 1980s, this new review reinterpreted findings, based on fundamental principles of immunology and exercise physiology, to clarify misconceptions and misinterpretations that have formed over the years.

Dr John Campbell from the University’s Department for Health explained: “It is increasingly clear that changes happening to your immune system after a strenuous bout of exercise do not leave your body immune-suppressed. In fact, evidence now suggests that your immune system is boosted after exercise — for example we know that exercise can improve your immune response to a flu jab.”

A strenuous exercise bout itself will not increase the likelihood of catching an infection. (Shutterstock)

In the study, the authors explain that, for competitors taking part in endurance sports, exercise causes immune cells to change in two ways. Initially, during exercise, the number of some immune cells in the bloodstream can increase dramatically by up to 10 times, especially ‘natural killer cells’ which deal with infections.

After exercise, some cells in the bloodstream decrease substantially — sometimes falling to levels lower than before exercise, and this can last for several hours. Many scientists previously interpreted this fall in immune cells after exercise to be immune-suppression. However strong evidence suggests that this does not mean that cells have been ‘lost’ or ‘destroyed’, but rather that they move to other sites in the body that are more likely to become infected, such as the lungs.

Co-author, Dr James Turner added: “Given the important role exercise has for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and type II diabetes, the findings from our analysis emphasise that people should not be put off exercise for fear that it will dampen their immune system. Clearly, the benefits of exercise, including endurance sports, outweigh any negative effects which people may perceive.”

The authors suggest that although a strenuous exercise bout itself will not increase the likelihood of catching an infection, other factors might. First, attending any event where there is a large gathering of people, increases your chance of infection. Second, public transport, particularly airline travel over long distances, where sleep is disrupted, may also increase your infection risk. Other factors, like eating an inadequate diet, getting cold and wet, and psychological stress, have all been linked to a greater chance of developing infections. The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

(With inputs from ANI)

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First Published: Apr 21, 2018 16:55 IST