Can exercise help to boost our immunity?

Regular exercise is an important aspect of supporting your overall health, but did you know it can also come in handy to help with boosting your immune system?

Let’s explore what immunity is and then look at the research around the best ways to boost it.

What is immunity?

The immune system is made up of organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection. The key components of our immune system are:

  • White blood cells
  • Antibodies
  • Complement system
  • Lymphatic system
  • Spleen
  • Bone marrow
  • Thymus

The immune system has a very important role in maintaining our health. It must recognise and destroy every infection or microbe that it comes in contact with, then remember this response for next time.  The “remembering” is what provides us with “immunity”. 

There are many factors that can impact on your immune system, these may include:

  • Illness, disease and some medications
  • Psychological stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Age (very old and very young)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Vaccination history

Can I boost my immune system?

When we consider the complexity of the immune system, apart from vaccination, the idea of “boosting” your immune system with a quick fix is not yet proven. But we do know that the key elements to a healthy immune system are related to keeping your body and organs such as heart, lungs and kidneys healthy. These may include:

Let’s explore how physical activity can enhance your immune system.

Physical activity for immunity

Being physically active has been shown to improve your general health, slow immune function decline such as with ageing and reduce your risk of infection for common respiratory illness. There is still debate over the link between immunity and long term, high intensity exercise training, such as that performed by elite athletes. But for the general public, moderate levels of physical activity are beneficial for short and long term health.

The ways in which exercise impacts on the immune system may include:

  • Maintaining the physical barrier of skin (wounds heal faster in people who exercise thus decreasing the risk of infection)
  • Accelerating the response of the neutrophils (search and destroy cells) in seeking out inflammation
  • Preserving a healthy immune system as we age

How much exercise is good for you?

The optimum amount to improve immune function in adults, even those with chronic disease, is 45 minute bouts of moderate intensity exercise.

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends: 

  • Doing some activity is better than doing none
  • Be active on most days of the week, and over the week aim for:
    • At least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity
    • At least 1.25 hours of vigorous physical activity
    • A couple of sessions of strengthening exercises

So, make physical activity a regular habit – walk to the shops, find an online exercise class, dance to your favourite music just try and build movement into your day.

COVID considerations

  • Follow any government guidelines related to exercise and social distancing
  • If possible, avoid exercising in busy public spaces
  • Wash your hands and use hand sanitiser before and after exercising
  • Don’t exercise outside your home if you are unwell
  • Pay attention to other lifestyle factors such as sleep, nutrition and smoking
  • Be creative in your physical activity – gardening, dancing and cleaning the house are all physical activities

For more information on physical activity: 

Talking to your GP or trusted health professional is also a great way to start if you are unsure or have health condition.