Running isn’t just for weight loss or winning races! Here, we explain how to boost your immune system through running too.
If you’re getting sick all the time, it affects your life in a multitude of negative ways.
To overcome that struggle, you need real, successful ways to strengthen the immune system so you can build a healthy lifestyle and get on with your goals.
With a healthy immune system, you will no longer have to:
- Call in sick to work because you’re sick
- Waste weekends at home on the couch
- Spend large amounts of money on doctors and medications
- Replace all your personal and vacation days with sick days
Basically, when you have constant colds or a cough that just doesn’t go away, you’re getting precious time sucked away from your life.
And while everyone’s immune system is different, for most of us there are some simple lifestyle changes we can make to give our immune system the boost we need.
The Main Causes of a Weak Immune System
If you want to find the solution, always dig deep to discover the cause. Here are some of the biggest culprits of a compromised immune system.
You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
When you’re stressed, one of the first things to go is your sleep. It’s the easiest thing to push back when you have a tight schedule. You tell yourself a few tiny hours won’t hurt anything.
But neuroscience writer Kate Sukel says that the brain starts to change when you don’t get enough sleep. It builds up more inflammation, which makes you more prone to infections.
The brain also plays a big part in consolidating your memories. That doesn’t just mean dreams and memories of events, but also bacteria-fighting memories. When you don’t sleep enough, you don’t give your brain enough time to study those unwanted diseases.
So if you have a bad cold that you can’t seem to get rid of, there’s a good chance your sleep habits could be causing that.
You’re Not Hydrated Enough
Some health professionals will debate the idea that hydration strengthens the immune system. But logically speaking, if you’re not drinking enough water, you won’t be able to perform daily tasks (much less physical exercise) as well.
There is definite biological evidence that a lack of water lowers your level of saliva. Saliva holds a substance called immunoglobulin, which is one of the first and most important defenses your body has to fight foreign bacteria.
Not only does dehydration suppress saliva, it also lowers the levels of cortisol and epinephrine in your bloodstream. Both of these are chemicals that work to build up your immune system and fight infections.
Drinking water flushes toxins through your body, cleaning out your kidneys and other vital functions. Not to mention, it’s full of minerals that are necessary for life and health.
Hydration will definitely give you more energy and endurance while exercising. So if you want to boost your immune system, you likely need to drink more water.
There are other causes of dehydration that will, without a doubt, compromise your immune system: smoking and alcohol.
Smoking and alcohol do much more than dehydrate you. These habits break down your liver, lungs, and essential members that are all necessary to fight for your health.
If you’re struggling with a weak immune system, consider cutting back or quitting these activities.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise is tragically overlooked when it comes to immune boosters.
Most people look to exercise for weight loss or muscle building, but they don’t consider the valuable processes that your body goes through during a workout.
Why Exercise is So Important for Strong Immunity
When you exercise, you help your body move from sedentary to active. There are certain systems in your body that need to be activated to make them cycle through smoothly:
Your lungs and airways need to be used to flush out bacteria.
Your white blood cells are antibodies that work to fight disease. When you exercise, your blood cells circulate more quickly. That means the white blood cells could have the opportunity to discover disease faster.
When the body temperature rises during and after exercise, your body heat can stave off bacteria.
Exercise reduces stress.
It tames the release of stress hormones to your brain.
When you’re less stressed, you’re more likely to sleep better, eat better, and focus on the tasks at hand. All those qualities lead to a healthier immune system.
Will Running Boost the Immune System More Than Other Exercises?
The best type of exercise to boost your immune system is anything that involves cardio.
You need it to get your lungs and blood pumping. You need that rush of antibodies that stave off illness.
But which types of cardio are the most effective? Is there a hierarchy?
Let’s consider the two most popular cardio exercises: cycling and running. Both are great for your immune system but each requires a different time commitment to get results.
Since a bicycle is a powerful machine, you need more resistance to get a good workout. A casual spin by the waterfront will not get your heart rate up.
If you want to feel the optimum effects of cycling, you need to incorporate some hills, a longer distance, and speed. These are the necessary ingredients.
Running is different.
Right from the get-go, you’re already putting a strain on your lungs.
You’re activating your core and leg muscles to propel yourself forward. So a 30-minute run on a semi-flat area will put more of your body to use than the same situation on a bicycle.
If you’re able to incorporate both into your weekly routine, that’s great. But running will help you see results faster.
What’s more, diversifying your runs with different running methods will have even better effects!
Specific Methods to Boost Your Immune System Through Running
Think about what you want to achieve by running:
- You need to get your lungs flowing and your blood pumping.
- You need to build muscle so your body is strong enough to face whatever life throws at it.
- You need endurance so that you’re constantly improving and never on a plateau.
The best way to reach these goals is by changing up your runs regularly.
If you keep doing the same run, in the same way, every day, your body will get so accustomed to it that it will stop giving you the improvements you need.
That’s why giving your body a little ‘shock’ will keep it lively and ready to adjust to new changes at every turn. Having that adaptability will perk up your immune system even more.
This is the most standard type of running or jogging. You pick a distance or a time and you run until you reach that. For most people, it makes up the majority of their runs, since it’s great exercise and you can progress from it.
To run sprints, you run a short distance as fast as you possibly can and then take a rest before doing another round. Keeping your cadence at maximum level is a huge challenge, especially when you’re first starting out.
To motivate yourself to work harder, set an amount of time that you’ll sprint before you take your rest. Try 10 seconds to begin with, then work your way up.
For the resting period, it’s best to walk instead of completely stopping. This way, your heart keeps moving at a steady pace and your body doesn’t take the jolt so harshly.
Tempo runs are similar but different to sprints. You’ll choose a distance or amount of time, then run at a fast, near unsustainable pace during that time. That speed is usually slower than a sprint, but the focus is still on velocity.
It will be faster than your normal base run, giving your body the feeling of urgency and awakening your primal fight or flight mode.
The best way to strengthen your legs and core, hill running brings a surge of power to your immune system by building overall muscle strength to your body.
Most doctors recommend moderate exercise as the best type for your immune health. But doing one long run per week will increase the amount and speed you can run throughout the week.
This will motivate you to keep running, and maybe even inspire you to train for a longer race, like a 10K or half marathon. Running a half marathon will produce long-lasting effects that are stronger than shorter runs.
These benefits include lowering the risk of heart disease, strengthening your bones, and keeping your joints and muscles limber (which prevents arthritis).
As long as you make sure to include a healthy diet and plenty of vitamins, long runs are perfectly fine for your immune system.
Typically, after intense exercise like running a long race, a recovery run is a great option. This is a slower-paced, easy run that keeps your muscles working so they don’t seize up.
It can be done right after intense training like sprints, or the day after a long run or race.
Personally, recovery runs give me the momentum I need to keep working hard on my training, without overdoing it. They’re also an ideal way to prevent injury since they keep muscles loose and relaxed.
Putting All the Pieces Together
As you’ve probably noticed through this article, you can boost your immune system through running, but it’s not the only thing you should be doing.
Don’t overlook the other crucial components to a healthy lifestyle: proper sleep, adequate hydration, plenty of vegetables, fruits, and protein, and eliminating stress from your life.
With this approach, you’re going to see a massive spike in healthy days. You’ll feel the effects of a healthy immune system improving your quality of life.