Healthy Bodies
  • Southeast Wisconsin
  • March 2013
Written by  Brian Bankenbusch, CSCS, CES, PES

Fighting illness with exercise

With all the flu viruses and colds going around this winter, people are wondering what they should be doing to fortify themselves against illness. One simple way to keep yourself healthy and your immune system strong is to exercise regularly.

Consistent exercise does great things for the body:

  • It keeps the heart strong to help it pump more blood through the body.
  • It fortifies the lungs so they move oxygen through the body effectively.
  • It keeps the muscles strong.
  • It boosts the immune system, resulting in fewer colds and illnesses throughout the year.

A big reason why exercise boosts the immune system is because it fortifies the cells that fight bacteria in the body. These cells seem to work slower in people who do not exercise regularly. So consistent exercise makes the body better equipped to fight off colds and other viruses, which will either keep a person from getting sick or shorten the length of illness, as compared to the body of someone who does not exercise regularly. Studies have shown that people who exercise take half as many sick days as those who do not exercise. It is also documented that no matter your age, regular exercise will help to increase the chances of obtaining a healthy immune system. Anyone, of any age, can boost their immune system through regular exercise.

A person does not need to be training like an Olympic athlete to boost their immune system. Doing moderate exercise three or more times a week can improve the body’s illness fighting function. In fact, too much exercise can have a negative effect on the immune system, making it weaker. During moderate exercise, immune cells move through the body more quickly; however, during prolonged high-intensity exercise bouts, certain hormones are released that suppress the immune cells from circulating through the body. This weakens the immune system and makes a person more susceptible to colds and viruses. The key is to find a happy medium with how much exercise a body needs. Consistent moderate-intensity exercise with a couple of rest days during the week seems to be the best immune-boosting exercise regime.

Many people question whether they should continue with their exercise routine when they are sick. It is never a good idea to workout when a person has a fever or is contagious. Other illnesses like the stomach flu or severe chest colds also warrant staying away from the gym. Each person should take inventory of how their body is feeling and what their energy levels are. If it is towards the beginning or middle of an illness, it is also best to rest and let the body heal itself. Towards the end of a cold or other minor illness, it could be beneficial to do some light exercise. When working out at the end of an illness, it is wise to keep the intensity light until a person feels up to a more strenuous workout.

The bottom line is clear: regular exercise is very beneficial to keeping the body and all of its functions healthy and strong. So if your family, friends and coworkers are sneezing and coughing around you, hit the gym and strengthen your muscles, lungs and immune system!

Brian Bankenbusch, CSCS, CES, PES, is the owner of Epic Fitness & Sports Performance LLC. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with over 10 years of experience training high school and collegiate athletes. He is devoted to bringing proper education and superior program design to the community. Brian is also a certified corrective exercise specialist, wellness coach and personal trainer. For more information, visit or call 414-464-2156.

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