Many people jump on the fitness bandwagon to improve the way their body looks. While exercise does indeed have the power to change the way one's body looks for the better, the more powerful aspect of exercise is its positive contribution to our health.
A firmer stomach or cellulite-free legs are just a few of the outer visual effects we may experience with proper exercise. However, the real party is going on deep inside where every single cell in our bodies is strengthened by and responds to exercise.
In fact, the greatest/real benefits of exercise are not always seen but appreciated and felt when any sort of health condition or illness arises that calls for a strong immune system.
The immune system is our defence system and without it, we could not survive. It is not a single entity, but a large and complex system that comprises multiple biological structures and processes that work at protecting us against disease and defending against invaders such as bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies.
It not only guards against their entrance but deals with any that manage to slip by. When it senses something has entered the body that is not healthy, it triggers the release of special cells (most of these are white blood cells) that travel to the troubled site and attack the intruder.
In order to function at peak performance, the immune system, like all other systems, requires balance and harmony. It is the first and foremost system within us that we should focus on keeping healthy and humming at peak performance since it is responsible for keeping all other systems healthy and functioning.
Cultural studies reveal that living in poverty goes along with being malnourished as well as being more vulnerable to infectious disease. This proves that diet is, without doubt, is a player in fine tuning and nurturing a healthy immune system.
In other words, our disease-fighting, immunity warriors need foods that provide an abundance of nutrients (that is where they get their strength from!) if they are to do their job properly. Citrus fruits, red bell peppers, garlic, ginger, broccoli, yogurt, spinach, almonds, papaya and green tea are all super foods that give our immune system a boost.
Nuts, seeds shellfish, blueberries, turmeric and yes, even dark chocolate make the list as well (this is, of course, a short list). The idea is to stick as close to "natural" and nature as possible.
Plan your diet to include many of nature's gifts: fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, organic dairy and good fats (local is best) so your body gets the required micro and macro nutrients needed for healthy immunity.
Beyond diet, studies show that regular physical exercise is another major player and important factor towards strengthening our immune system.
Although exercise initially acts as a stressor to our immune system and causes our body to grow weaker, it also sets the stage for it to grow stronger and more resilient. Each time our body is required to grow back stronger than before, it boosts our immunity and makes us more capable of handling future stressors.
In other words, we build and grow our immunity bigger and stronger with exercise the same way we grow our muscles firmer and stronger with exercise.
It may not seem that important if we are currently healthy, however, should we be faced with an illness or disease at any point in life, a strong immune system is our greatest ally. It is our source of resilience and, in the end, the final deciding factor and what separates the "winners from the losers."
But we can't wait until disease hits to build this immunity or we have given disease the upper hand.
Exercise also causes us to sweat. When we sweat, toxins are carried out of the body and released through the pores of our skin. This cleansing aids our immune system, makes our skin healthier and gives us a natural, outer "glow" generated from the inside out.
Not only have we boosted our immunity, but we have knocked years off our age/looks as well. (Take note: These toxins need to be rinsed off the skin and removed so they do not clog any pores.)
Exercise improves respiratory endurance and helps the lungs to rid themselves of airborne viruses and bacteria associated with respiratory tract infections. It promotes weight maintenance and muscle growth and improves cardiovascular health and bone density in weight bearing joints.
Even low levels of exercise give the immune system a boost, but strenuous, challenging exercise has been shown to activate several cell lines with the immune system.
Exercising when sick can stress the immune system, however, evidence suggests that if we catch it in time, before a fever hits, exercise may even help decrease the severity and duration of the infection.
In the end, our immune system, along with every other system in our body, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and supported by health boosting living-strategies such as nutrient dense eating and proper challenging exercise.
We feel healthier and happier, look younger, exude self-confidence and have more energy. What's not to love?
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner Anytime Fitness.