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Exercise and Your Immune System, Explained by a Doctor

The Cabinet — 08.17.20

When it comes to bolstering your immune system, exercise works in a variety of ways. 

 Can exercise support a healthy immune system? Surprising - but true. According to Hilma scientific advisor Dr. Paul Grewal, an internal medicine physician focused on lifestyle strategies for metabolic health, consistently making time to move your body is critical to building a robust defense.

Here, we dive into the ways exercise helps support your immune system as well as some helpful ways to think about integrating exercise into your everyday life.

How does circulation impact your immune system?

One of the simplest manners in which regular exercises helps to benefit your immune system is by promoting good blood circulation. This means the cells and antibodies throughout your body are spread to areas of concern. Regular exercise helps to support the body's immune response, especially through cardiovascular activity, which can be combative specifically against upper respiratory challenges.

This is primarily because your lymphatic system, which circulates white blood cells (your body’s infection fighters), relies on muscles contracting regularly to circulate lymphatic fluid. “Biochemically, the genetic expression of immune cells are profoundly changed by exercise within a few days.”

What is T-cell proliferation?

Regular exercise has been found to stimulate production of T cells, also known as T lymphocytes. These T cells are an integral part of the adaptive immune system’s function. When a foreign invader causes infection in the body,  T cells kill pathogenic host cells while activating other immune cells. 

What kind of exercise should you be doing?

When it comes to the type of exercise in which you should engage. Dr. Grewal advises balance. “Everyone should find a balance of aerobic, strength, and stability/flexibility work,” he explains. “But don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good - if you're just getting started, simply do something you truly enjoy as often as you're able!”

How can exercise support your immune system as you age?

Exercise — in partnership with other healthy regimens like sleep, stress management, and a healthy diet — has been found to bolster long-term immune health. And just like many of life’s most fruitful habits, exercise is most effective when it’s thoughtfully integrated into your everyday life.  When you consider your workout routine, think of it in consistent, manageable, and approachable terms.
There’s no need to push your body to its limits; a steady routine can do a lot to strengthen your immune response. “45 minutes of daily movement should be the minimum goal,” explains Dr. Grewal. “It is possible to overtrain, of course, so listen to your body.”

As we age, exercise remains important to upkeep immune health. Even for the elderly, regular movement can continue to guard against immunosenescence (the natural degradation of your immune system). “Never underestimate the human body's capacity to improve even into the later decades!” says Dr. Grewal. “The rule is just ‘start low, go slow’ with respect to increasing exercise intensity and duration over time.”


1. Publishing, Harvard Health. “How to Boost Your Immune System.” Harvard Health, 6 Apr. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system.

2.  Jeurissen, A, et al. “[The Effects of Physical Exercise on the Immune System].” Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 July 2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12892009/.

3. Sellami, Maha, et al. “Effects of Acute and Chronic Exercise on Immunological Parameters in the Elderly Aged: Can Physical Activity Counteract the Effects of Aging?” Frontiers in Immunology, Frontiers Media S.A., 10 Oct. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6191490/.

This information is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult a physician before treating any disorder.

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