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Using Exercise to Boost Your Immunity


October 23, 2019 | Published by

While we’ve covered the importance of exercise on this blog before, it can be a tough sell for people struggling with irregular HPA stress axis function. Thankfully, when dealing with chronic stress, a little exercise can go a long way.

Regardless of your energy levels, you’re going to want to have some kind of regular activity. The World Health Organization has reported that physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of global mortality. This equates to around 3.2 million deaths each year. (1) 

Though grinding out cardio for half the day may seem like an impossible task, research shows us that when it comes to your immune system, moderate exercise is actually much healthier for you than its more intense counterpart. (2)

Before we get to the exercise, let’s look quickly at immune system itself. There are two components that make up our immune system: the innate response and the acquired response. The innate response is our first wave of resistance when we come in contact with an infectious substance for the first time.  This includes the body’s physical barriers like our skin and mucous membranes. Pathogens enter our body mainly though consumption of food and drink or inhalation. (2)

The acquired response is our body’s trained response of the immune system. Its primary responsibilities are keeping pathogens out of the body, preventing pathogens from colonizing, and finding and eliminating harmful pathogens. (2)

So, what does exercise have to do with immunity? Research shows us that during moderate exercise, the innate response can amplify immune cell function. On the other hand, when we exercise with high intensity, this innate response can decrease the functionality of immune cells. 

This means that while high intensity workouts can lead to decreased immune function, moderate intensity workouts induce adequate amounts of our stress hormones, which may increase immune cell levels. (2)

One of the most important pieces of information revealed in this study is about the beneficial immunological changes that exercise can provide. The immune boost received from a moderate amount of exercise can reduce the risk of infection. And while adequate exercise provides this wonderful benefit, high intensity training from endurance athletes were shown to be more at risk of developing infection in the 3-72 hours following their workout. (2)

This time frame is often called the “open-window” by researchers. Aspects of the athlete’s innate and acquired immune function will be considerably depressed, though not completely inactive, after an intense or extended workout session. This means that hard working athletes are more susceptible to the flu, though not more at risk of coming down with a serious illness. (2) Below is a chart that shows how risk of infection increases or decreases based on activity levels.In the end, studies have shown that a moderately energetic lifestyle tends to work best for most people. Here’s an example of a moderate workout program:

  • Taking daily 20 to 30-minute walks
  • Bicycling a few times each week
  • Playing a low-intensity sport like golf regularly
  • Hitting the gym every other day (3)

Be sure to exercise at your own pace and not the pace of the person next to you or your friends. If you get tired, rest or quit for a while or for the day. If you are tired the next morning, take it easier the next time. As your stamina increases, gradually increase your exercise. (4)

When dealing with chronic stress or HPA axis irregularity, the purpose of exercising is not necessarily to become stronger, but to increase your body’s tone, flexibility and aerobic capacity. Two weeks after you start exercising daily you should notice that you are beginning to feel better.

After a workout you should feel good only slightly or mildly sore the day after. If you feel worse after a workout or the next morning, you probably exercised too hard and need to step it down a notch. (4)

If you haven’t exercised in a while and you have heart disease, diabetes, asthma or any other health concerns, check with your doctor before you begin. (4) For more information about working out while suffering from chronic stress, read Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome™ by Dr. James L. Wilson.


  1. Zheng Q, et al., Regular Exercise Enhances the Immune Response Against Microbial Antigens Through Up-Regulation of Toll-like Receptor Signaling Pathways. Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry.
  2. Shea, N. Exercise and Immune Response: An Overview. The Pipettepen
  3. Exercise and Immunity. MedlinePlus.
  4. Wilson, J. Adrenal Fatigue and Exercise: Start Low and Go Slow.



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