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Does exercise weaken the immune system

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Many people start exercising in order to improve their health. They want to feel better, to be more energetic throughout the day and maybe even to lose a little bit of weight. In some cases, they become addicted to the Adrenaline Rush and increase the amount of exercise to several days per week. Based on the literature, long term exercise can improve immune system function and can offer protection against many kinds of diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and more).  
What are the short term effects of exercise on the body? Is it possible that in the immediate stages after training we are more exposed to damage and can harm our health? Is it possible that the training was harmful to the body and weakens it? How do you handle the problem? Do we need to take supplements or perhaps is the answer to these questions what we eat and drink, our diet?

What is the effect of exercise on the immune system?
The effect of exercise on the immune system should be divided into 2 stages: long term effects and short term effects.
1) Long-term effects - When we examine the effect of physical training on the immune system in the long term, we can see, based on numerous studies, that regular physical activity reduces the risk of many diseases, like heart disease and hypertension, improves cholesterol levels in the blood, lowers the risk of various types of cancer, contributes to weight loss and increased life expectancy. In the long term, exercise has many advantages and is recommended for everyone.

2)  Short-term effects - Despite the beneficial effects of training over the years, it important to understand the immediate effects of exercise on the immune system may not necessarily be beneficial. When performing intense physical training over 45-60 minutes, several processes occur in the body in parallel. On the one hand, the body suppresses the immune function while on the other hand,hand; it creates components that may harm the body. What does this mean?
a)    Creating hazardous substances in the body during exercise - During intense/ prolonged exercise, muscle cells form oxygen derivatives called "ROS-reactive oxygen species" and also materials that are defined as "Free Radicals". These substances are secreted from the muscle cell into the bloodstream, creating a condition called "Oxidative Stress ". That is, an increase in acidity in the body that may damage the tissues, tendons, ligaments and intracellular organelles. As the exercise is more intense or longer, so may be the oxidative stress.
b)    Immune suppression – When exercising, several physiological processes occur in the body: Increase in body temperature, increased blood pressure, increases in the number of breaths per minute, increased heart rate and more. The body "thinks" it is in a state of "flu", but because the body knows there is no disease, and doesn't want to start an immune system response, the body secretes hormones that suppress the immune system. For example: Cortisol hormone. This process is normal while training, but the problem may occur after the exercise, when the immune system does not immediately return to a normal level of function.  This can leave the body more vulnerable to oxidative stress and to the damage of free radicals. At the same time, we are also more susceptible to germs and viruses that are in our immediate environment, and can become infected more easily with any kind of disease. The most popular disease among athletes population is the upper respiratory infection, because that the first place that the germs/virus penetrate the body. This is why athletes, especially endurance athletes like runners, triathletes and cyclists often suffer from colds, sore throat and runny nose at times of training load and while preparing for competitions.
These situations should remind one to take into account that external help is important to strengthen the body, and help it better prepare for threats from inside (oxidative stress) and from outside (germs, viruses, bacteria).

How we can protect the body immediately after a workout?
Answer: By eating carbohydrates.
Eating carbohydrate encourages the secretion of Insulin hormones in the blood. The Insulin hormone lowers the levels of Cortisol hormone in the body (which can suppress the immune system). After training, but before eating carbohydrates, the Cortisol levels continue to elevate in the blood, although the training period is over.  Hence, the best way to reduce the suppression of the immune system after exercise and restore immune system function as quickly as possible, is by eating fast absorbing carbohydrates. For example:  fresh fruit (banana, apple, orange, etc.), dried fruit (date, fig, apricot, etc.), fruit juice, sandwiches and more.
Note- It is important to take into account that after an intense/long exercise and/or competition, the recovery of the immune system may take a few days until you reach full functioning. Therefore, it is important to eat something rich in carbohydrates immediately after the exercise, even if you do not feel hungry.

How does the body deal with the post-exercise suppression of the immune system in the long term?
In the long term, the body learns to create its own natural Antioxidants - chemicals that improve the immune system function. This is the explanation for the positive effect of physical activity on our health in the long term. However, there are two cases where,  according to literature, people may be more vulnerable to impairment of the immune system following exercise, without the ability of the body to protect itself adequately:
1) In the beginning stages of training (getting in shape).
2) During periods of overload training - preparation for competitions, training camps and more.

Should we use antioxidant high-dose supplements?
One of the proposals to strengthen the body is to take supplements, or high doses of antioxidants (for example:  vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, etc.). Indeed, it makes sense, but researches in the area discovered that it had an opposite effect on the immune system in the long term. The researchers found that the use of high-dose antioxidant supplements prevented the natural production of natural antioxidants in the body. Meaning, it damaged the adaptation reaction of the body to exercise in the long term.

How can we help to protect our body?
In the last decade, there have been a number of investigations that have examined improving the body's immune response after training. The purpose was to find out how the combination of foods and beverages rich in natural antioxidants, within the daily menu, could help to protect the body. This domain has recently been investigated among amateur athletes and professional athletes in a scientific manner. The aim was to improve the athlete's body in coping with the rush of physical training and improving immune function in a healthy way. Many foods have been studied in this context, where the goal is to get back to nature and allow combinations of healthy foods and drinks in the menu. Foods high in natural antioxidants and considered to be healthy that are recommended are: pomegranate, orange, lemon, broccoli, tomatoes, beets, berries, wine, coffee, green tea and more.

Summary
Exercise is good for health. Exercise improves the functioning of the immune system in the long term. However, in the short term intense exercise may suppress the immune system and create harmful components (free radical and ROS). Therefore, it is very important to eat carbohydrates immediately after the exercise and to combine antioxidant-rich foods in the daily menu.


 
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