Ways to Boost Your Immune System

As endurance athletes, we do tend to put our bodies through more physical activity than the average person. Part of training and preparing well for an upcoming race is treading that balance between doing too much and doing too little.

Just this week Ironman/Sunrise Events announced the postponement of their races in Davao to May 2020, while some other mass participation events have pulled the plug and cancelled — all due to measures against COVID-2019 exposure and community transmission. (So far, the confirmed cases in the Philippines are imported cases.)

While not everyone who is exposed to viruses will get sick, having a healthy immune system enables your body to fight off viruses before they take hold, symptoms will be milder if you do get sick, and you are more likely to recover fully. So here are some surefire ways you can boost your immune system.

Exercise regularly.

New research published in Frontiers of Immunology casts doubt on the “open window hypothesis” that says long periods of exercise depress the immune system. In fact, it appears that exercise enhances immune response (or at least doesn’t hamper it). Even better, evidence suggests regular physical activity and frequent exercise might limit or delay immunological aging.

“Contemporary evidence from epidemiological studies shows that leading a physically active lifestyle reduces the incidence of communicable (e.g., bacterial and viral infections) and non-communicable diseases (e.g., cancer), implying that immune competency is enhanced by regular exercise bouts.” – Campbell, J. P., & Turner, J. E. (2018). Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in immunology, 9, 648. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648

Sleep and recover.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because the body produces it during stressful situations. This can be beneficial short-term because it helps prepare the body for a “fight-or-flight” response if you’re in actual danger. Chronic stress however keeps the body in that fight-or-flight mode, even if the situation isn’t life-or-death. Prolonged exposure to cortisol puts you at risk for health problems such as heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, and obesity.

So you need to manage stress. We’re not just talking physical stress from exercise, but also mental and emotional stress from your work and home life. Your body doesn’t distinguish between these; for your body, stress is stress. One of the best ways your body recovers? Sleep!

Sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function. Additionally, chronic lack of sleep also results in lots of cortisol being secreted (and the cycle continues…).

“Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.

“During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.” — Eric J. Olson, MD

Eat healthy.

Try to eat lots of whole fruit and vegetables because they contain vitamins and minerals that your body uses to rebuild itself. They also contain antioxidants which reverse the cellular damage done by free radicals. This supports the immune system and keeps it strong.

While there are some people who don’t believe in taking vitamin supplements (because yes, you do tend to excrete a lot of the vitamin content in your urine if you’re not vitamin-deficient), I still think taking a complete multivitamin covers all bases. B-complex supplementation in particular enhances immune system function. Women, and women athletes in particular can benefit from iron supplements.

The human body is an amazing creation capable of buffering and adapting to challenges thrown its way, as long as we treat it right. I pray for your health throughout this season.

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About Noelle De Guzman

Noelle De Guzman is a freelance writer and recreational athlete with over 12 years of experience in wellness and endurance sport. She believes sport and an active healthy lifestyle changes lives.

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