Exercise and Your Immune System

Three photos of people exercising.

A great sweat session brings a slew of benefits. It helps you get stronger, makes your heart happy, and pretty much kicks stress to the curb. But what about your immune system? Can your workouts boost your body’s defenses?

Fact is, regular exercise can help fight off colds, flu, and other nasties that thrive and party in winter’s drier, colder air. And the good news is, you don’t have to spin, squat and sweat like a maniac to reap the rewards.

Okay, So How Exactly Does Exercise Boost Your Immune System?

Here’s how it works and the amount of exercise you should do when you’re trying to power up your resistance.

You see, moving your body increases the number and circulation of white blood cells (your immune system’s front-line fighters) that seek out and destroy viruses. Exercise also reduces inflammation which may improve immune response and decrease your risk of getting sick.

Just following the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—that’s at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two strength-training sessions a week for adults—is enough to start building up your immune system.

That may look like 30-minute workouts five days a week. Or fewer, longer sessions—up to 60 minutes. And if you’re super busy, no prob say the pros, just break up those minutes throughout the day. Hey, it’s all about what works for you.

Moderate intensity means you should aim for 70% of your max heart rate. Think brisk walk, snowball fight, or even dancing around your bedroom.

Too Much Exercise? Is That a Thing?

Experts warn that over-exercising—more than 60 minutes of high-intensity exercise with no rest days in-between—has zero immune system benefits. Like nada. And may even make you more vulnerable to illness. Ugh.

“We know consistent movement has many benefits for our mind, body, and spirit,” says certified personal trainer and registered dietetic technician Niki Campbell. “So it’s no surprise that it helps us fight off colds and other winter illnesses. And because it doesn’t have to be hours of high-intensity work, it’s easy to incorporate into our daily lives and get the immune system benefits.”

More Tips (You Know You Love ‘Em) to Boost Your Immunity.

Campbell says there are a few other things you can do to maximize the benefits of exercise and rev up your body’s defenses.

Drinking enough fluids every day (11.5 cups for women and 15.5 cups for men) and logging at least seven hours of sleep each night help you get the most out of your workouts and stay healthy overall.

And as with any fitness routine, it’s important to eat a balanced diet that includes post-workout protein. A meal with 20-25 grams of protein after exercise helps with recovery, and a shake (did somebody say, “shake?”) is a seriously convenient way to go.

So. Exciting stuff, right? Tell us about your fave winter workout—and if it includes snowballs— on Instagram @PremierProtein and Tik Tok @Premier Protein.