How Does Exercise Affect Your Immune System?

 

Having a strong immune system means your body has a better chance of fighting off the latest germ or virus. This helps protect you against seasonal bugs, like the flu. It also means you’re at less risk of catching quick-spreading viruses.

Plus, even if you do wind up getting sick, a strong immune system can aid in your recovery. But how does this particular system actually work?

 

Understanding Immune Function

 

When an unknown foreign substance enters the body, it activates the immune system. These substances are known as antigens. Antigens known for instigating an immune response are viruses, bacteria, and fungus.

We often refer to the immune system as one solitary unit. Yet, as the National Institutes of Health explains, it is made up of two different subsystems.

The first subsystem is the innate immune system. This system offers a general defense against harmful substances that enter the body. The skin and digestive tract are two common entrance sites.

The second subsystem is the adaptive immune system. If the body encounters an antigen it has never seen before, it doesn’t know how to respond. A good example of this is the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

When this occurs, it has to figure out how to fight the virus. Once it does, it creates an antibody that is able to counteract that specific antigen. This antibody helps protect the body if it encounters that same antigen in the future.

Additionally, there are instances in which the immune system doesn’t work as it should. In some cases, it may not respond well enough. In others, it over-responds and starts attacking things it shouldn’t. This happens when an autoimmune disease is present.

As Harvard Medical School explains, there are many things you can do to boost immunity. Among them are not smoking, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough sleep. Regular exercise is helpful as well.

 

How Does Exercise Affect Your Immune System?

 

Exercise is beneficial to the immune system function in many ways. One is that it helps lower your white blood cells. This is important because a high white blood cell count is associated with inflammation. It could also signify that a health condition is present, such as coronary heart disease.

Research reveals that engaging in regular exercise also helps protect the immune system from aging. Additionally, this effect is greatest for the elderly. This makes exercise even more beneficial for clients in their later years of life.

According to a study in Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews, regular moderate exercise can help reduce the risk of respiratory infection. It also reduces inflammation within the respiratory tract. This helps reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

Exercise also has a positive effect on chronic inflammation in the body. This type of long-lasting inflammation can occur due to factors such as poor diet or smoking. It also puts clients at greater risk of developing major health conditions. Among them are diabetes and cancer.

Research further reveals that obesity impairs immune function. This is due in part to obesity’s connection with chronic inflammation. Regular exercise helps clients maintain a healthy weight. This lowers the body’s inflammation, as well as decreasing the risks associated with it.

 

Exercises that Help Boost Immune System Function

 

What type of physical activity can improve your body’s ability to fend off infection and other foreign invaders? Medline reports that a “moderate program” can provide beneficial responses. This is good news for clients who aren’t interested in following a high-intensity exercise program.

Examples of moderately intense exercise include walking or other forms of aerobic exercise. Training at the gym can be considered a moderate-intensity exercise as well. The key is consistency. Ideally, this means working out daily or every other day.

Exercising with family and friends is another way to improve the body’s immune response. Why? Research has found that social support helps lower inflammation risk. Some studies have also connected social support with a reduced risk of life-threatening conditions.

One way to improve the immune system function while increasing social interaction is to get active with your kids. Another is to meet a friend for regular workouts.

 

Answering Clients’ FAQs About Immunity and Physical Activity

 

Some clients care about immunity simply because they don’t want to get sick. For others, building their immune system will help them fight inflammatory disease.

Regardless of their reason, it is common to have a few questions about exercise and immunity. Here are a few to consider, as well as answers to provide.

  • Do I have to continue to take a vitamin if I work out every day? Yes, exercise offers many immune-building benefits, but this doesn’t mean your client should eliminate other healthy behaviors. Instead, encourage clients to continue their normal health regimens. Remind them that this will only make their immunity even stronger.
  • What if I have an anti-inflammatory disease? Clients diagnosed with an anti-inflammatory disease should always talk to their doctor first. Have them ask about limitations or exercises they should avoid. This will help you create a more safe and effective exercise program.
Read More

If You Stopped Exercising Today, Here’s How Long It Would Take Your Body To Notice

How quickly does fitness depreciate? : the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

In order to really get a good idea of what happens to your body as it gets out of shape, it helps to have an understanding of how it gets into shape.

Now, for all the different types of fitness, we’ll look at, change occurs depending on the amount of time from your last workout. Immediately after working out, your body will go into a growth mode. It’ll first seek to replace all the energy you used during the exercise. Then it will rebuild the muscles (your heart and blood vessels are muscles too) and adapt them to better service the activity you put them through. Depending on the activity, you may have to wait as many as three days before working out again or you’ll risk structural damage.

After you’re completely recovered, that’s when things can go bad. Let us cover what happens when you get into shape. Then look at what happens when you stop working.

When you exercise, your body adapts in a number of different ways to help cope with the stresses you place on it. When you stop working out, these adaptations are scaled back at different rates depending on the adaptation.

Cardiovascular fitness:

When you do cardiovascular exercise, you work your muscles a little bit. Initially, you’ll see some development, but those gains plateau pretty quickly. The main thing that improves is your body’s energy systems. The harder you push yourself, the more your anaerobic systems improve, the longer you run, the more you work your aerobic systems.

Aerobic respiration is very efficient in creating energy in terms of energy per fuel but very slow and dependent on oxygen, which isn’t simple to get into your system. Anaerobic energy is used when your cells don’t have access to much oxygen, but actually uses more energy than it creates, net. When you’re using energy in bursts where the load is greater than 20% of your 1 rep max, blood flow will be temporarily cut off to the muscles preventing them from getting oxygen. This happens during the concentric phase of the movement. It can happen during fast runs, every time your foot lands, during intense exercise, or weightlifting in general.

In terms of aerobic capacity, the major thing that your body adapts for is gas exchange with your cells:

  • More alveoli in the lungs (more pockets for the oxygen to enter the blood through, and more pockets to transfer out CO2).
  • More capillaries in the lungs (bigger pipes for your blood to connect with the alveoli.
  • More capillaries in your muscles (more places for your blood to drop off oxygen AND clean out CO2).
  • More blood volume.
  • More red blood cells (to carry more oxygen and clean out the CO2) — this is also one way that endurance athletes “blood dope”, they add red blood cells to make their body’s more oxygen efficient.
  • Stronger heart (the heart is able to pump more volume in fewer pumps).
  • More efficiency at the point of exchange due to improved gradient between blood and tissues.
  • Higher mitochondrial content in muscle fibers necessary for the muscles to process the added energy demands.

Anaerobic energy piggybacks on a lot of those points. It doesn’t specifically need gas exchange as much, but it does need to be able to more efficiently turn pyruvate and hydrogen ions into lactate for recycling via the Cori cycle [3]. A note on the hydrogen ions, you know the burning sensation in your muscles when you’re working hard, particularly when you’re doing endurance resistance training? That’s the hydrogen ions building up and interfering with signals from your nervous system telling it to work.

  • Anaerobic fitness increases the capacity of oxygen and carbon dioxide capabilities, while aerobic fitness improves the efficiency of the exchange.
  • Anaerobic fitness increases your ability to get the lactate out and buffer the hydrogen ion allowing you to do more work without the burn.

How fast do you lose it? Why do you lose it?

If you’re out of shape to begin with, just getting into shape and you stop, most of these adaptations aren’t in place yet, so you’ll go back to ground zero relatively quickly. If you are in great shape and you stop suddenly, different things happen.

In terms of fitness, the first thing to go is your cardiovascular maximums and endurance. You’ll lose your VO2 max and endurance pretty quickly: minutes off of your 5k within three weeks.

This is mostly because of your body scaling back the extra red blood cells it created when you got in shape. You don’t need them anymore so it won’t continue creating them at that rate. It creates millions of them daily, so after a week or so you’ll be back to normal, out of shape levels. It can take three to four weeks for your capillary density to fade. Additionally, your mitochondrial content in your muscle mass can decrease by 50% over the course of a week.

 

Muscular Strength:

With muscular strength and fitness, your body will first improve the central nervous system message processing. Your initial strength gains when you start working out? It’s all in your head. They’re not really associated with any muscular adaptations, more neurological. It can take two to eight weeks to fully get your CNS in gear from working out.

Your body has two types of muscle, type I (oxidative, which is used for endurance activities), and type II (glycolytic, which is used for intense activities). Type II has greater mass potential, while type I is improved upon, mostly the same way that cardiovascular training improves your body, through improved pathways to get blood and gas to your muscles.

For your type II muscles, it doesn’t appear that your body builds new muscle fibers, it merely makes the muscle fibers you have larger by increasing the size and quantity of myosin and actin filaments, making the myofibrils (the containers for the myosin and actin), more fluid in the muscle cells, and increases in the connective tissue. Type IIb muscles (they have large bursts, but the power doesn’t last long) convert to Type IIa muscles under training.

Additionally, your body can increase bone density as a result of resistance training to better support the progressive loads you’re putting on it.

It can take years for your musculoskeletal adaptations to fully take place, but for hypertrophy to really begin, it takes about sixteen sessions to really see lasting change for an untrained person (the pump you feel after a workout is called transient hypertrophy, it goes away).

How fast does it take for them to go away? Why do they go away?

Your body will stop building them up. You’re demonstrating to your body that you don’t need those muscles anymore. If you’re otherwise eating fine, your body will not consume your muscles, but it won’t repair them. Over time your body will revert to a stable state that’s adapted to the workload that you’re giving it.

Your body will also start shifting more attention to type I fibers away from the high burning Type II muscles. At this point, it really depends on who you are and how well you’re trained:

  • Some athletes see a loss of about 6% muscle density after three weeks.
  • Some powerlifters see losses of as much as 35% after seven months.
  • Young women who trained for seven weeks and gained two pounds of muscle mass, lost nearly all of it after detraining for seven weeks.

The longer you go without training, the more you lose.

Because it’s not actively eating away at your muscles, they can last for months to years depending on how strong you were, to begin with; the fitter you are the longer they last. When you start lifting again, you’ll be able to start from a higher spot from when you started last time. Part of this is because your muscle goes away slowly, the other part is that your nervous system still knows how to lift that much weight, that was half what you were working out when you lifted.

Why?

Your body does this because we’ve evolved to be prepared for famine. Your body strives to keep an optimum amount of high energy parts for the amount of work applied to them. There are biological limits to this, if you try to work too much volume you’ll start to cause more damage than they can repair in time.

If you keep eating the same amount of calories as you did when you were working out, most of that will turn to fat. You’ll be consuming more than you need. Going along with famine preparedness, fat is cheap to store and extremely useful when food is scarce, so your body will stockpile it if you aren’t giving it a reason not to. It’s this reason that most people think muscle turns to fat, it doesn’t, it’s just that when people stop working out, they usually don’t compensate for the calorie usage change properly and end up putting on fat.

Finally, if you do not consume enough calories to maintain your metabolism, your body will begin to catabolize (consume for energy) your muscles. When people starve themselves, they’ll lose weight fast at first, mostly from water and your body consuming muscle. They may appear to be fat but skinny at the same time because the body will consume muscle until it has the minimum required to function before it goes in full force on the fat.

The good news!

The better shape you were in, the less time it will take to get back into shape. Your muscle memory remains for a long time after your muscles have faded. Your body remembers how it was able to run and lift, you just have to remind it and get those muscles, blood vessels, and lungs back in shape to make it happen again and maybe lose a few pounds in the process.

When you start working out again, your type II muscles remember things much quicker. While they myofibrils may not build up immediately, it’s possible to gain much of the lean mass you got back through fluids in the muscle fibers soon after starting training again.

Your endurance will come, but it takes longer.

Of course, it will take more time the longer you go without exercise. For cardio, it takes less time to break down your fitness; as stated above, it could take years to lose all your muscle.

Read More

10 Healthy Dinner Recipes You Can Make In 30 Minutes Or Less

Adopting healthy eating habits is one of the most popular topics across the world. But sticking to a healthy diet is easier said than done.

One of the best ways to ease into the habit is to eat more homecooked meals so you can monitor and control what you’re putting in your body. And if you are worried that your busy schedule or long working hours might pose a problem, fret not. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a fussy, time-consuming affair. From hearty salads to a creamy casserole, each of these easy and healthy dinner recipes can be put together in just half an hour or less:

  • Barley Salad with Strawberries and Buttermilk Dressing: Fiber-rich barley, fresh veggies, and juicy strawberries make this easy-to-make salad both filling and flavorful. While the low-fat buttermilk dressing adds just the right amount of creaminess and tang. And it takes as little as 20 minutes to put it together. You can further cut down on prep time by cooking barley in a pressure cooker. Here’s the delish recipe. You might also want to check out this recipe for Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Salad with Kale and Artichokes.
  • Roasted Rainbow Vegetable Bowl: This is probably one of the easiest (and most delicious) ways to load up on seasonal veggies. Tossed in Tahini dressing, the hearty veggie bowl is chock full of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Meanwhile, roasting the vegetables not only enhances the flavor but also makes them easier to digest. You can also throw in your favorite nuts and seeds for added crunch and nutrition. Get the plant-based recipe here. These recipes for Sesame Chicken Rice Bowls and Jerk Prawn and Coconut Rice Bowls are also highly recommended.
  • Fig and Blue Cheese-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin: The sweetness of dried figs and an apple glaze perfectly complements the savory bite of blue cheese in this elegant baked dish. Serve it with wild rice or steamed green beans for a scrumptious weeknight meal. Get the complete recipe here. You might also like this Mediterranean Boneless Pork Chops recipe.
  • Black Bean Burritos: With brown rice, black beans, guac, and salsa wrapped in a gluten-free tortilla, this healthier version of burrito will satisfy all your fast food cravings while giving you a protein boost. Here’s the easy-to-make recipe.
  • White Fish with Sesame Noodles: This easy dinner recipe packs the goodness of spinach, fiber-rich sesame seeds, and seabass that’s loaded with protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Plus, it comes together in just 20 minutes! What’s not to like? Check out the recipe here. And if you love all things seafood like me, you might also want to try these recipes for Lemon Red Snapper with Herbed Butter and Pesto Corn Salad with Shrimp.
  • Sausage and Mushroom Penne: Multi-grain penne, kale, and antioxidant-rich mushroom make this hearty pasta dish more flavorful and nutritious. You can swap kale with arugula for an added kick of peppery flavor. Get the full recipe here. If you’re looking for vegetarian recipe ideas, this 5-Ingredient Avocado Tofu Pasta recipe tastes just as good.
  • Chicken Thighs with Shallots and Spinach: Tender chicken thighs pair beautifully with the creamy spinach and shallots base in this healthy side dish. You can substitute sour cream in the recipe with plain Greek yogurt or hummus to make it healthier. Here’s the full recipe. I also tried and loved this no-fuss Chicken and Asparagus Lemon Stir Fry recipe.
  • Gingery Asian Noodle Salad with Turkey and Cucumber: Freshly grated ginger, ground turkey, snow peas and spices create a symphony of flavors and textures in this healthy Asian salad recipe. These recipes for Turkey Lettuce Wraps and Turkey and Rice Pilaf are also great for a quick and filling weeknight meal.
  • Vegan Fajita Bowl with Cauliflower Rice: Tasty fajita veggies and spicy cauliflower rice infuse this Mexican recipe with layers of texture and flavors. Check out the low-carb recipe here. This recipe for Vegan Tofu Scramble Kale Fried Rice is also highly recommended.
  • Broccoli Quinoa Casserole: This lighter, healthier version of the classic comfort food is loaded with good-for-you ingredients like chicken, quinoa, Greek yogurt, and vitamin C-rich broccoli—so you can dig in sans guilt. Get the gobsmacking recipe here. I also tried and loved this Roasted Shrimp Quinoa Spring Rolls recipe.
Read More

Science-Based Health Benefits of Drinking Enough Water

Our bodies are around 60% water, give or take.

It is commonly recommended to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule).

Although there is little science behind this specific rule, staying hydrated is important.

Here are evidence-based health benefits of drinking plenty of water.

 

1. Water Helps to Maximize Physical Performance

If we do not stay hydrated, physical performance can suffer.

This is particularly important during intense exercise or high heat.

Dehydration can have a noticeable effect if you lose as little as 2% of your body’s water content. However, it is not uncommon for athletes to lose up to 6-10% of their water weight via sweat.

This can lead to altered body temperature control, reduced motivation, increased fatigue and make exercise feel much more difficult, both physically and mentally.

Optimal hydration has been shown to prevent this from happening, and may even reduce the oxidative stress that occurs during high-intensity exercise. This is not surprising when you consider that muscle is about 80% of water.

So, if you exercise intensely and tend to sweat, then staying hydrated can help you perform at your absolute best.

BOTTOM LINE:Losing as little as 2% of your body’s water content can significantly impair physical performance.

2. Hydration Has a Major Effect on Energy Levels and Brain Function

Your brain is strongly influenced by hydration status.

Studies show that even mild dehydration (1-3% of body weight) can impair many aspects of brain function.

In a study of young women, fluid loss of 1.36% after exercise impaired both mood and concentration and increased the frequency of headaches

Another similar study, this time in young men, showed that fluid loss of 1.59% was detrimental to working memory and increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue.

A 1-3% fluid loss equals about 1.5-4.5 lbs (0.5-2 kg) of body weight loss for a 150 lbs (68 kg) person. This can easily occur through normal daily activities, let alone during exercise or high heat.

Many other studies, ranging from children to the elderly, have shown that mild dehydration can impair mood, memory and brain performance.

BOTTOM LINE:Mild dehydration (fluid loss of 1-3%) can impair energy levels and mood, and lead to major reductions in memory and brain performance.

3. Drinking Water May Help to Prevent and Treat Headaches

Dehydration can trigger headaches and migraines in some individuals.

Several studies have shown that water can relieve headaches in those who are dehydrated.

However, this appears to depend on the type of headache.

One study of 18 people found that water had no effect on the frequency of headaches, but did reduce the intensity and duration somewhat.

BOTTOM LINE:Drinking water can sometimes help relieve headache symptoms, especially in people who are dehydrated.

4. Drinking More Water May Help Relieve Constipation

Constipation is a common problem, characterized by infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stool.

Increasing fluid intake is often recommended as a part of the treatment protocol, and there is some evidence to back this up.

Low water consumption appears to be a risk factor for constipation in both young and elderly individuals.

Carbonated water shows particularly promising results for constipation relief, although the reason is not entirely understood.

BOTTOM LINE:Drinking plenty of water can help prevent and relieve constipation, especially in people who generally do not drink enough water.

5. Drinking Water May Help Treat Kidney Stones

Urinary stones are painful clumps of mineral crystal that form in the urinary system.

The most common form is kidney stones, which form in the kidneys.

There is limited evidence that water intake can help prevent recurrence in people who have previously gotten kidney stones.

Higher fluid intake increases the volume of urine passing through the kidneys, which dilutes the concentration of minerals, so they are less likely to crystallize and form clumps.

Water may also help prevent the initial formation of stones, but studies are required to confirm this.

BOTTOM LINE:Increased water intake appears to decrease the risk of kidney stone formation. More research is needed in this area.

6. Drinking More Water Can Help With Weight Loss

Drinking plenty of water can help you lose weight.

This is due to the fact that water can increase satiety and boost your metabolic rate.

In two studies, drinking half a liter (17 ounces) of water was shown to increase metabolism by 24-30% for up to 1.5 hours.

This means that drinking 2 liters of water every day can increase your total energy expenditure by up to 96 calories per day.

The timing is important too and drinking water half an hour before meals are the most effective. It can make you feel more full so that you eat fewer calories.

In one study, dieters who drank half a liter of water before meals lost 44% more weight, over a period of 12 weeks.

It is actually best to drink water cold because then the body will use additional energy (calories) to heat the water to body temperature.

Read More

How to boost your immune system through diet and lifestyle changes

The immune system plays an essential role in helping us fend off attacks from viruses and bacteria. Here’s how diet and lifestyle can maximize your immune system’s ability to protect you from foreign invaders.

How diet can boost the immune system

Get enough vitamins: Nutrition is our primary protection in the battle against infection. Key soldiers in the fight include vitamins like ACEB6D, and minerals like zinciron, and selenium. Some foods that are rich in these vitamins include carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, almonds, avocados, salmon, oysters, tuna, lean chicken breast, and beef.

The reason many of these vitamins help maintain a strong immune system is that they are also antioxidants. Antioxidants help buffer the effects of free radicals, which are harmful chemicals that damage healthy cells and genetic material, giving viruses a better shot at invading, reproducing, and compromising our immune system farther. Antioxidants work to buffer this effect by counteracting the damage caused by free radicals and help our immune system prevent, treat, and suppress viral activity.

Eat protein: According to Harvard Health Publishing, you should be getting a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in order to avoid getting sick. Not enough can have detrimental effects on your T-cells., which dispatch disease-fighting antibodies to viruses and bacteria and is an essential part of the immune system.

Protein also contains high amounts of zinc, which is a mineral that aids in the production of white blood cells, which fight infection. Good places to find lean protein include seafood, chicken, turkey, eggs, and beans.

Consume prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are found in foods such as onion, garlic, banana, and asparagus. They assist in maintaining a balanced gut microbiome, which is a vital player in how your immune system functions. Prebiotics work by increasing the population of “good bacteria” in the gut which in turn sparks the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, which are tiny proteins that help the immune system function.

Eat the rainbow: An easy way — though not essential — to make sure you’re getting enough immune-boosting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are to “eat the rainbow,”

This includes a rainbow of fruits and vegetables like, “red apples, potatoes, cherries or grapes; orange sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mango, yams or tangerines; green kiwi, broccoli, olives, limes or grapes; yellow apples, pears, bananas, or pineapple; blueberries, cabbage, kale, grapes or raisins; and tan cauliflower, dates, coconut, nuts or sauerkraut.”

How lifestyle changes can boost the immune system

Exercise, sleep, and keeping smoke-free are also ways you can give your immune system a better fighting chance at fending off invaders.

Get sufficient sleep: If you lack restful sleep, you will be more susceptible to infections since sleep is when your body works its hardest to combat inflammation and infection.

This inflammation can overstress the immune system making it less effective at fighting viral or bacterial infections. Although the amount of sleep you will need is highly individual, it’s recommended that most adults get between seven to eight hours each night.

Quit smoking: .Antibodies are the proteins produced by the immune system to fight foreign infections.

Exercise: Starting and staying active has been shown to help immune health. According to a 2019 study, exercise has a multitude of benefits including decreasing inflammation and improving immune regulation, which can delay the negative effects of aging. The study also found that moderate exercise can reduce the risk of illness.

With all this in mind, it is also important to remember that handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent infections from viruses or bacteria. It won’t boost your immune system, but it can help keep you protected, nonetheless.

Read More

How to boost your immune system

Helpful ways to strengthen your immune system and fight off disease

How can you improve your immune system? On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?

What can you do to boost your immune system?

The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.

But that doesn’t mean the effects of lifestyle on the immune system aren’t intriguing and shouldn’t be studied. Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand

Healthy ways to strengthen your immune system

Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
  • Try to minimize stress.

Increase immunity the healthy way

Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically. In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body — immune cells or others — is not necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who engage in “blood doping” — pumping blood into their systems to boost their number of blood cells and enhance their performance — run the risk of strokes.

Attempting to boost the cells of your immune system is especially complicated because there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists do not know the answer. What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells. Certainly, it produces many more lymphocytes than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis — some before they see any action, some after the battle is won. No one knows how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level.

Exercise: Good or bad for immunity?

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy? Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.

Some scientists are trying to take the next step to determine whether exercise directly affects a person’s susceptibility to infection. For example, some researchers are looking at whether extreme amounts of intensive exercise can cause athletes to get sick more often or somehow impairs their immune function. To do this sort of research, exercise scientists typically ask athletes to exercise intensively; the scientists test their blood and urine before and after the exercise to detect any changes in immune system components. While some changes have been recorded, immunologists do not yet know what these changes mean in terms of the human immune response.

But these subjects are elite athletes undergoing intense physical exertion. What about moderate exercise for average people? Does it help keep the immune system healthy? For now, even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established, it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be a beneficial arrow in the quiver of healthy living, a potentially important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with the rest of your body.

One approach that could help researchers get more complete answers about whether lifestyle factors such as exercise help improve immunity takes advantage of the sequencing of the human genome. This opportunity for research based on updated biomedical technology can be employed to give a more complete answer to this and similar questions about the immune system. For example, microarrays or “gene chips” based on the human genome allow scientists to look simultaneously at how thousands of gene sequences are turned on or off in response to specific physiological conditions — for example, blood cells from athletes before and after exercise. Researchers hope to use these tools to analyze patterns in order to better understand how the many pathways involved act at once.

Immune system and age

As we age, our immune response capability becomes reduced, which in turn contributes to more infections and more cancer. As life expectancy in developed countries has increased, so too has the incidence of age-related conditions.

While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are more likely to contract infectious diseases and, even more importantly, more likely to die from them. Respiratory infections, influenza, and particularly pneumonia are the leading cause of death in people over 65 worldwide. No one knows for sure why this happens, but some scientists observe that this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells, possibly from the thymus atrophying with age and producing fewer T cells to fight off infection. Whether this decrease in thymus function explains the drop in T cells or whether other changes play a role is not fully understood. Others are interested in whether the bone marrow becomes less efficient at producing the stem cells that give rise to the cells of the immune system.

A reduction in the immune response to infections has been demonstrated by older people’s response to vaccines. For example, studies of influenza vaccines have shown that for people over age 65, the vaccine is much less effective compared to healthy children (over age 2). But despite the reduction in efficacy, vaccinations for influenza and S. pneumoniae have significantly lowered the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared with no vaccination.

There appears to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in the elderly. A form of malnutrition that is surprisingly common even in affluent countries is known as “micronutrient malnutrition.” Micronutrient malnutrition, in which a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals that are obtained from or supplemented by diet, can be common in the elderly. Older people tend to eat less and often have less variety in their diets. One important question is whether dietary supplements may help older people maintain a healthier immune system. Older people should discuss this question with a physician who is well versed in geriatric nutrition because while some dietary supplementation may be beneficial for older people, even small changes can have serious repercussions in this age group.

Diet and your immune system

Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Scientists have long recognized that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition’s effect on the immune system, however, is not certain. There are still relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans, and even fewer studies that tie the effects of nutrition directly to the development (versus the treatment) of diseases.

There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in animals, as measured in the test tube. However, the impact of these immune system changes on the health of animals is less clear, and the effect of similar deficiencies on the human immune response has yet to be assessed.

So what can you do? If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs — maybe, for instance, you don’t like vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may bring other health benefits, beyond any possibly beneficial effects on the immune system. Taking megadoses of a single vitamin does not. More is not necessarily better.

Improve immunity with herbs and supplements?

Walk into a store, and you will find bottles of pills and herbal preparations that claim to “support immunity” or otherwise boost the health of your immune system. Although some preparations have been found to alter some components of immune function, thus far there is no evidence that they actually bolster immunity to the point where you are better protected against infection and disease. Demonstrating whether an herb — or any substance, for that matter — can enhance immunity is, as yet, a highly complicated matter. Scientists don’t know, for example, whether an herb that seems to raise the levels of antibodies in the blood is actually doing anything beneficial for overall immunity.

Stress and immune function

Modern medicine has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship between mind and body. A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Despite the challenges, scientists are actively studying the relationship between stress and immune function.

For one thing, stress is difficult to define. What may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another. When people are exposed to situations they regard as stressful, it is difficult for them to measure how much stress they feel, and difficult for the scientist to know if a person’s subjective impression of the amount of stress is accurate. The scientist can only measure things that may reflect stress, such as the number of times the heart beats each minute, but such measures also may reflect other factors.

Most scientists studying the relationship of stress and immune function, however, do not study a sudden, short-lived stressor; rather, they try to study more constant and frequent stressors known as chronic stress, such as that caused by relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, or sustained challenges to perform well at one’s work. Some scientists are investigating whether ongoing stress takes a toll on the immune system.

But it is hard to perform what scientists call “controlled experiments” in human beings. In a controlled experiment, the scientist can change one and only one factor, such as the amount of a particular chemical, and then measure the effect of that change on some other measurable phenomenon, such as the amount of antibodies produced by a particular type of immune system cell when it is exposed to the chemical. In a living animal, and especially in a human being, that kind of control is just not possible, since there are so many other things happening to the animal or person at the time that measurements are being taken.

Despite these inevitable difficulties in measuring the relationship of stress to immunity, scientists are making progress.

Does being cold give you a weak immune system?

Almost every mother has said it: “Wear a jacket or you’ll catch a cold!” Is she right? So far, researchers who are studying this question think that normal exposure to moderate cold doesn’t increase your susceptibility to infection. Most health experts agree that the reason winter is “cold and flu season” is not that people are cold, but that they spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs.

But researchers remain interested in this question in different populations. Some experiments with mice suggest that cold exposure might reduce the ability to cope with infection. But what about humans? Scientists have dunked people in cold water and made others sit nude in subfreezing temperatures. They’ve studied people who lived in Antarctica and those on expeditions in the Canadian Rockies. The results have been mixed. For example, researchers documented an increase in upper respiratory infections in competitive cross-country skiers who exercise vigorously in the cold, but whether these infections are due to the cold or other factors — such as the intense exercise or the dryness of the air — is not known.

A group of Canadian researchers that has reviewed hundreds of medical studies on the subject and conducted some of its own research concludes that there’s no need to worry about moderate cold exposure — it has no detrimental effect on the human immune system. Should you bundle up when it’s cold outside? The answer is “yes” if you’re uncomfortable, or if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period where such problems as frostbite and hypothermia are a risk. But don’t worry about immunity.

 

Read More

Get Started For 4 Cents!

Free 3-day Pass Join Now