The immune-boosting power of exercise

April 2023

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people can’t get enough of immune-boosting “solutions”—from apple cider vinegar to a variety of supplements, there are all kinds of trendy immune-boosting solutions that aren’t as beneficial as one would hope. 

One Canadian study found that most products and solutions marketed as “immune boosting” are scientifically misleading and used to sell products with unproven results.

But there is one healthy habit that may go a long way in boosting your immunity and it’s something that you might already be doing every day—exercise! Read on to find out why daily exercise is worth the time and effort.

Why is exercise so important to our immune system?

Everyone knows that regular exercise makes people generally healthier, but can it increase your body’s ability to fight off disease and infection?

The short answer is yes! 

A study conducted at Appalachian State University in North Carolina found that workouts of moderate-to-vigorous intensity stimulated “the ongoing exchange of distinct and highly active immune cell subtypes between the circulation and tissues”. With near-daily sessions of under an hour each, the physiological changes produced by these workouts added up to “enhance immune defence activity and metabolic health”.

So, if you follow the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines and spread your 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity over the week, you’ll be on your way to improving your overall immunity. 

Not sure how to gauge the intensity of your workouts? You can use the talk test to determine how intense your workouts are. Moderate exercise is characterized by being able to talk but not sing during the activity and when participating in vigorous exercise, you won’t be able to say more than a few words before pausing for a breath.

Simply put, exercise contributes to good holistic health—and therefore to a healthy immune system—in much the same way a healthy, balanced diet does.

Will exercise prevent acute respiratory infection?

While a boosted immune system doesn’t mean that you won’t get sick, it may help your body respond to all kinds of different pathogens and increase the odds that you’ll recover quicker after falling sick.

Research has proven that exercise is beneficial when it comes to acute respiratory infections such as COVID-19. While hitting the gym won’t help you recover from a respiratory infection, having an active lifestyle will help prevent it and ensure you are better equipped to bounce back after illness.

One study found that physical inactivity is associated with higher risks of severe COVID-19 outcomes. The study looked at 48,440 adult patients and found that those with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive had a greater risk of hospitalisation, admission to the ICU, and death due to the coronavirus versus those who consistently met physical activity guidelines and those who did some level of physical activity.

Regular exercise does reduce the risk of chronic diseases

One thing all leading health authorities agree on is that exercising daily is worth it. Studies prove that even a moderate level of regular exercise can reduce the risk of lifestyle-related chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancers.

Daily exercise can also help you sleep better, reduce your stress and anxiety, and improve your mood because hormones like endorphins, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin are secreted in higher amounts during exercise. 

So while there are always barriers that can keep people from getting up and moving—from motivation to the weather to time constraints—it’s important to plan physical activity and movement into your day. And be sure to limit and break up the time you sit or remain sedentary—try to keep your sedentary time to no more than 8 hours per day and take frequent movement breaks throughout that time.

It’s time to get moving!

There’s no wrong way to add movement to your day. You can hit the gym for a weight training session, attend a fitness class, work in your garden, go for a bike ride, clean your home, or walk your dog. As long as you are getting your heart rate up, you’re taking steps toward improving your body’s defence system.


Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.

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