Study: Does exercise offer protection against infection?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, improving the health and strength of our immune system has been on everyone’s mind. When scientists and health experts pointed out that regular exercise helped improve immune function, runners collectively breathed a sigh of relief, but what effect does exercise really have? Recent research reveals that although it provides some protection against infection, exercise is far from a panacea for disease, and overdoing it can actually have the opposite effect.

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The study

The researchers noted that there is a general consensus that regular sessions of moderate-intensity exercise of short duration (up to 45 minutes) are beneficial for immune defense, especially in the elderly and the elderly. people with chronic diseases. In contrast, they added that top athletes have a much higher incidence of illness, and it is second only to injuries for the number of training days lost in a season.

The aim of this review, published by the Association for the Advancement of Sports Medicine, was to determine why elite athletes tend to get sick more than the general population, and to determine in what measures exercise actually improves immune function by analyzing all of the available literature on the subject.

Exercise and immune function

After reviewing the research, it is undeniable that regular periods of moderate to vigorous physical activity are beneficial for the normal functioning of the immune system, which likely helps reduce (but not completely eliminate) your risk of contracting respiratory and respiratory diseases. certain cancers. In fact, with each session of physical activity, you increase the frequency at which immune cells are exchanged between the blood and other tissues. Experts say it likely contributes to better immune surveillance, better health, and lower disease risk.

Whether athletes are more susceptible to disease and infection is still a matter of debate among scientists, but those on both sides of the argument agree on one thing: “factors such as stress, sleep, nutrition, circadian shift, and history of infection/vaccination could directly impact or contribute to weakened immunity and risk of infection, especially in situations where exposure to pathogens is more likely.

In other words, large amounts of intense exercise may not directly reduce the functioning of your immune system, but rather the added stress on your body, combined with other lifestyle factors, could put you at increased risk of disease.

How can runners protect their immune system?

Runners, even if they are not elite or high performance athletes, are more likely to fall into this risk group due to the amount of running they do. Running multiple days a week can take a toll on your body, even if you’re not at the elite level.

Does that mean you have to stop running? No. Running can still benefit your immune system, as long as you take care of your body and recover properly. Take a look at this infographic Michael Glenson, professor of exercise biochemistry at Loughborough University (UK):

Photo: Michael Gleeson

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As you can see, reducing your risk of disease and infection requires a multi-faceted approach, and while exercise isn’t a bulletproof vest, it can do wonders for your immune system. If, however, you’re training for a goal run and doing a lot of volume or high-intensity work, you need to be extra careful and make sure you’re managing your stress load and recovering properly. This will reduce the number of training days you are forced to miss due to illness and allow you to keep running well.

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