UBC Okanagan associate professor shares benefits of exercise

Natural immunity booster

It's more important than ever to keep up a healthy routine as we collectively deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as going to bed on time, eating well and getting regular exercise.

But how much exercise is too much, and does exercise actually boost your immune system?

UBC Okanagan associate professor Jonathan Little's research with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences shows it does, but in moderation. 

Regular exercise can be a great addition to eating properly and getting the right amount of sleep, says Little, especially during this time. 

"Certainly, eating healthy and sleep are very important for overall health. But I think the evidence showing how exercise has such wide-ranging health benefits, including improving our immune system, suggests that our bodies have evolved to function optimally when we are regularly active. So, I don’t think anything can substitute for regular physical activity when it comes to optimizing health.

"Being inactive is linked to poor metabolic and psychological health and a less functional immune system. Most people know that regular exercise can improve markers of metabolic or psychological wellbeing, but what is less appreciated are the effects of exercise on the immune system. Working through multiple pathways, research shows that the right amount of exercise can boost immunity."

However, getting too much exercise can also be a problem, says Little, and finding the sweet spot by engaging in regular moderate exercise is the best approach. 

"We can think of exercise as medicine for boosting our immune function; too little and we have no effect but too much might actually be bad. There is evidence that after extreme exertion, like a marathon or very strenuous bout of prolonged exercise, our immune cells don’t work as well to fight off infections.

"You don’t want to be inactive but it’s probably also not the best time to be tripling your regular exercise routine because you have extra time on your hands.

"I wouldn’t discourage anyone from creating a realistic goal or new challenge but using some common sense, increasing your mileage or minutes moderately, and keeping within your limits is best right now. We also don’t know when races or competitions are going to start up again so that probably should come into consideration."

He says it's important to remember that exercise, even if it is low or moderate intensity such as a walk or hike, also helps to reduce stress or anxiety and improve mental wellbeing.

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