To boost your immune system has become the top priority in the recent years due to the outbreak of the coronavirus since 2020. In light of the global pandemic of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) that has now infiltrated most countries and millions of households worldwide, it is important to keep yourself safe and healthy by strengthening your immune system to fight against impending infections, even when you are isolated at home.. Boosting your immune system is now a major focus due to the coronavirus outbreak since 2020. With COVID-19 spreading worldwide, it’s crucial to stay safe and healthy. Strengthen your immune system and fight infections by taking steps, even if you’re isolated at home.
About the Immune system
The immune system consists of a complex network of cells, organs, and proteins that actively combat infection (microbes).
The immune system and microbial infection
The immune system remembers all the germs it has beaten using memory cells called T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. This means it can recognize and destroy the microbe quickly if it penetrate the body again, before it can breed and make you feel sick.
Illnesses such as the flu, COVID-19, and the common cold require multiple efforts to combat them. This is because they can be caused by various viruses or different strains of the same virus. Catching a flu or cold from one type of virus does not give you immunity against the other types.
Components of the immune system
The main parts of the immune system are:
White blood cells
White blood cells are the key players in your immune system. Your bone marrow produces them, and they are part of the lymphatic system.
White blood cells travel in blood and tissue, searching for harmful invaders like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. When they find them, they launch an immune attack.
White blood cells include lymphocytes (such as B-cells, T-cells and natural killer cells), and many other types of immune cells.
Antibodies help the body to fight microbes or the toxins (poisons) they produce. Antigens on the microbe’s surface or in the chemicals it produces are recognized.
These antigens indicate that the microbe or toxin is foreign. The antibodies then mark these antigens for destruction. There are many cells, proteins and chemicals involved in this attack.
Proteins make up the complement system, and their actions complement the work done by antibodies.
The lymphatic system is a network of delicate tubes throughout the body. The main functions of the lymphatic system are to:
- absorb some of the fats in our diet from the intestine.
- manage the fluid levels in the body
- deal with cell products that otherwise would result in disease or disorders
- react to bacteria
- deal with cancer cells
The lymphatic system consists of:
- white blood cells (lymphocytes)
- lymph nodes (also called lymph glands) – which trap microbes
- lymph vessels – tubes that carry lymph, the colourless fluid that bathes your body’s tissues and contains infection-fighting white blood cells
The spleen is a blood-filtering organ that removes microbes and destroys old or damaged red blood cells. It also makes disease-fighting components of the immune system (including antibodies and lymphocytes).
Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found inside your bones. It makes red blood cells for oxygen, white blood cells for fighting infection, and platelets for blood clotting.
The thymus filters and monitors your blood content. It produces the white blood cells called T-lymphocytes.
Exercise is a great way to strengthen your immune system along with social distancing and handwashing.
Exercising 5 days a week lowers the chance of getting a respiratory infection by almost half compared to not exercising. Exercising can boost your immune system. But how much exercise is needed for this benefit? Let’s find out.
Exercise and Anti-Inflammatory Effects
A myriad of research exists about how exercise improves the metabolic and immune systems. A recently published study is available online in Brain, Behavior and Immunity. One 20-minute session of exercise can boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body.
When you exercise often, your body makes more antibodies and T-cells. These are special white blood cells that help your immune system fight off specific germs and viruses. Depending on one’s physical levels, a regular exercise regime can lessen the severity of symptoms by 32% – 41%.
More of these protective cells in your body will improve your immune system. This means you can find and fight bacteria and viruses faster.
In addition, exercising means food will be burned at a faster rate instead of accumulating in the digestive tract and causing inflammatory effects, leading to a healthier gut and thus, a healthier body.
Exercising may raise body temperature and stop bacteria growth, which can lower inflammation in the body. Higher body temperature may improve the immune system, clearing the lungs of germs that cause respiratory infections.
Exercise and Stress Hormones
The term “sweat it out” is real when it comes to relieving stress. As we know, our body is a well-oiled machine that is interconnected in all aspects, from the mind to working organs. Being active decreases stress hormones, which is vital in reducing the chances of getting sick and protecting against illnesses.
Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol boost your immune system, helping it fight off pathogens that can build up or attack. Exercise can slow ageing and potentially increase lifespan by about 10 years.
Stress Hormone #1: Adrenaline
Adrenaline and noradrenaline are two related but separate chemical messengers. Adrenal glands make them in the center. Some nerve cells in the central peripheral nervous system also make noradrenaline. They go into the blood and act as messengers (hormones), and also send signals to different organs (neurotransmitters).
Stress Hormone #2: Cortisol
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that your adrenal glands produce and release. Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body by carrying messages through your blood to your organs, skin, muscles and other tissues. These signals tell your body what to do and when to do it.
Glucocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone. They suppress inflammation in all of your bodily tissues and control metabolism in your muscles, fat, liver and bones. Glucocorticoids also affect sleep-wake cycles.
Cortisol is an essential hormone that affects almost every tissue and organ in your body. It plays many important functions, including:
- Helping control your sleep-wake cycle.
- Regulating your body’s stress response.
- Helping control your body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, or your metabolism.
- Suppressing inflammation.
- Regulating blood pressure.
- Regulating blood sugar
Your body continuously monitors your cortisol levels to maintain steady levels (homeostasis). Higher-than-normal or lower-than-normal cortisol levels can be harmful to your health.
Being in isolation in this given time without access to gyms or parks doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. In fact, it is even more important to exercise now than ever before. The best part is you don’t need high-intensity workouts to maintain a healthy immune system.
Doing light to moderate exercises a few times a week is enough, like walking, gardening, or doing chores at home.
Many online workouts are available to help you stay active and boost your immune system. It’s easy to find something that suits your needs.
Will Too Much Exercise Cause Adverse Effects?
Too much exercise can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and muscle damage, despite its many benefits. All of which are counterproductive in boosting your immune system.
Overtraining weakens the immune system because the body focuses on fixing oxidative stress instead of fighting upper respiratory infections.
Symptoms of Overexercising
Individuals who overexercise tend to experience similar signs and symptoms, which include:
- Extended Muscle Soreness Muscle soreness after a workout should last three days, four at the most, Miranda says.
- Decreased Immune Response Getting sick more than usual is a sign of overtraining, according to Miranda.
- Increased Injuries Frequent or recurring injury is usually a sign something is wrong.
- Constant Fatigue, Irritability, and Low Energy Being exhausted may signal you are pushing your body too far, too fast, according to ACE.
- Getting Tired Early in Your Workout Premature muscle fatigue is (usually) a sign something is wrong, Miranda says.
- Not recovering or improving after exercise may mean you’re pushing yourself too hard and too quickly.
- Exercising often lowers resting heart rate, but too much exercise can have the opposite effect. An increase could be a sign of a serious problem or a cardiovascular change.
- Choosing workouts over everything else may indicate an obsession or an unhealthy balance between work and personal life.
- Depression or Anxiety Exercise is (and should be) a mood booster, but too much can leave you feeling sad or lethargic. Those struggling with overexercising disorder may also feel anxious and nervous at the thought of missing a workout.
Research shows that after intense exercise lasting over 90 minutes, immunity is weakened for a period of 3 to 72 hours. During this window, viruses and bacteria can overcome your body’s natural defence mechanism.
Exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine to increase in a fight or flight response. The sympathetic nervous system is best known for its function in responding to stressful or dangerous situations. In these types of situations, the sympathetic nervous system will activate to speed up your heart rate, deliver more blood to areas of your body that need more oxygen or other responses to help your get out of danger or threat.
This will subsequently increase the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, activating a cellular response that suppresses cytokines and the tumour necrosis factor (TNF). While TNF can boost your immune system, it is also pro-inflammatory, and too much of it will do more harm than good.
Dr David Nieman proposed the J-curve theory to explain the relationship between exercise and infections. As seen on the chart below, moderate exercise seems to do the least damage, whereas tough workouts are likely to cause adverse effects. So if you typically train hard within limits, your upper respiratory tract infection risk is at a low point.
However, what if you have an existing infection? Would moderate exercise still tout its benefits then?
If you have mild symptoms in your mouth, nose, and throat, you can still exercise at a lower intensity. This is in accordance with the ‘above the neck’ rule.
During the pandemic, it’s important to avoid exercising until you’re fully recovered. During the pandemic, it’s important to avoid exercising until you’re fully recovered. Additionally, remember to practice good personal hygiene. This includes washing your hands thoroughly and using your own towels before, during, and after working out.
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