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Building a Strong Immune System: Part IV

Thanks to COVID-19 there has been an explosion of interest in being healthier, and specifically how to best support the immune system. This is the fourth installment focusing on the most powerful ways to create the immune system you want.

The research is clear, whether it's COVID-19 or anything else, those of us who are healthy and strong regardless of age have the best outcomes to any health challenges. Exercise is obviously a part of this equation.

The Coronavirus, as well as the rampant chronic diseases that plague the U.S. and other developed nations like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, etc., make it abundantly clear we are in "bad shape" (pun intended).

So how much and what kind of exercise is best? Are only Olympians and Ironman triathletes truly healthy? I used to think if I could ride my bike 100 miles at any given time that I was "golden", that I was invincible when it came to getting sick. You know the mentality, "no pain no gain" right?

As an endurance athlete, it made perfect sense to me that if I could ride all day long then of course my immune system would be in as good a shape as my legs were. So why was I still getting sick too often and feeling like the little kid in the picture below after my rides?

There is no question that moving your body in the right way pays big dividends when it comes to building a healthy immune system. I was engaging in "chronic cardio", a term that is becoming more widely understood. It basically means too much cardio exercise (or any exercise really) is actually a serious stressor on the body.

It weakens the immune system instead of strengthening it because there isn't sufficient time to recover. I was living in a state of fight or flight for months at a time slowly breaking my body down. It took a while to figure out, but after going through my Functional Health Coach training, and researching on my own, I came to learn how to move my body in a much healthier way.

A paper published in The Journal of Health

Sport and Science Volume 8, Issue 3, from May 2019 called, "The Compelling Link Between Physical Activity And The Bodies Defense System" sheds some recent science on the subject.

The study looked at four areas of exercise immunology attempting to discern how and what kinds of exercise affect the immune system for better or for worse.

Two excerpts sum up the article nicely:

  1. "Taken together, the best evidence supports that high exercise training workloads, competition events, and the associated physiological, metabolic, and psychological stress are linked to immune dysfunction, inflammation, oxidative stress, and muscle damage."

  2. "During moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise bouts of less than 60 min duration, the antipathogen activity of tissue macrophages occurs in parallel with an enhanced recirculation of immunoglobulins, anti-inflammatory cytokines, neutrophils, NK cells, cytotoxic T cells, and immature B cells, all of which play critical roles in immune defense activity and metabolic health...Stress hormones, which can suppress immune cell function, and proinflammatory cytokines, indicative of intense metabolic activity, do not reach high levels during short duration, moderate exercise bouts."

So what is the big takeaway here? The paper does not "prove" anything but is highly suggestive of the fact that it pays to be smart when working out and/or developing your training plan. You definitely want lots of T-cells for example, they are like the Army Rangers of your immune system. Bad-ass in every way.

In the graphic above under the lungs, the word "prolonged" is key. Whether it's moderate or high intensity, if you go too long or too hard too often you are hurting yourself more than you are helping. To phrase it another way, you are breaking down and suppressing your immune system, not building it up.

After learning about research like this, and correlating it with how I had felt in the past, I began to back off my workloads. Instead, the focus became much less on moderate-intensity long miles, and more on high intensity but shorter efforts.

I also began to move my body in lots of different ways through yoga, stretching, hill sprints/hiking, resistance training, walking more and team sports, etc. Long story short: I ended up riding just as fast or faster, greatly reduced my sick time, and improved my energy levels (including libido) a whole lot. Another big benefit of this was I now had more time to do other things.

HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is all the rage now. For a fantastic read on the science behind HIIT, the book, "The One Minute Workout" is an excellent choice by Ph.D. Martin Gabala. Within it, you will find some of the early studies showing just how and why burst training or HIIT is so effective not only when it comes to strengthening your immune system, but even more so when it comes to getting A LOT more bang for your workout buck.

I utilize this concept with my students as well as myself as there are so many ways to do burst workouts. One of the more popular is called, "Tabata's", after the famous Japanese professor Dr. Izumi Tabata around his groundbreaking research on the HIIT concept.

Classic Tabata's involve doing 20 seconds all out of any movement you want (jumping jacks for example) followed by 10 seconds of rest. Then you do a different movement for another 20 seconds (like mountain climbers) and rest again. You repeat this process twice more with two different movements, then repeat all four again to finish up. Boom! Workout done in 4 minutes flat!

You don't have to "kill yourself" to get into great shape and find true health. In fact, it takes very little time to pull this off. Tabatas were a game-changer for one of my clients who literally had no time to do anything but work and sleep.

To quote part of his testimonial after working together:

"Bart is very good at what he does, and incredibly patient. As we worked through the labs we were able to identify several “hidden stressors” that were holding me back. I also learned great new ways to exercise and move my body. This was very important to me considering my insane work schedule. These were techniques that took much less time, yet provided better results!"

So there you have it. Exercise done right is extremely important if you want an optimized immune system ready for all challengers. We are seeing the result of this with COVID-19 right now. Those with an underlying health condition consistently have much worse outcomes than those who do not.

Check out this video clip of a WWII vet who recovered from the Coronavirus just in time for his 105th birthday!

If you need some help learning how to move your body for optimal immune function, please subscribe to Break-Free Wellness and/or leave me a message by clicking on the orange tab at the bottom right of the page. We will sit down and discuss your health challenges and goals in a free health consultation over Zoom or at the Cafe of Life Chiropractic and Massage office.

To learn more about me, the coaching programs I offer, and what I do to help others own their health, please click here! Don't forget to follow me on Instagram too!


Bart Thurman, FDN-P, INHC, AFDNP

Functional Health Coaching Cafe of Life Chiropractic

1325 Dry Creek Drive #307

Longmont, CO 80503

Office: 720-849-0124


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