Around this time of year, pretty much everyone I know turns into a biohacker, trying all the immunity-boosting tips and tricks to make it through the winter unscathed by the flu or some mysterious “bug.” And while you might remember to amp up your intake of Earl Grey tea, keep ginger shots stocked in your fridge for when your throat tickles, or practice straight-up JOMO (take that cough away from the general vicinity, K?), one of the best things that you can do for yourself on the reg to boost immunity is, quite simply, to exercise.
According to an article in Time, David Nieman, PhD, a professor of public health and director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, conducted a number of studies to find the things that best boosted the body’s ability to fend off illness, and regular exercise was shown to be one of the most impactful. “If you look at all the lifestyle factors that decrease the number of days you suffer from common cold, being a physically active and fit person is the most important,” explains Dr. Nieman in the article.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should start training for a marathon if you’re looking to stave off illness, because there’s a sweet spot when it comes to working out for the sake of your immune system. To reap the benefits of exercise for your health, he says light aerobic activity (think: walking, cycling, or jogging) for 30 to 60 minutes a day increases the circulation of white blood cells and other flu-fighting cells. His research also suggests that after 75 minutes of continuous exercise, the body begins spiking cortisol levels thereby throwing your immune system out of whack. Or in other words, less really is more.
Now here’s the catch: After exercise has ceased for about three hours, the circulation of these cells slows back to pre-workout levels, so while it is important to hit the gym for some cardio this winter, it could be even more important to skip that five-minute Uber and foot it instead. I know, I know, convincing yourself to do anything other than the bare minimum during hygge season is a chore, but considering it could keep illness at bay, it’s well worth the extra steps.
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