This cold and flu season, give your immune system a boost in the gym.

By Lauren Mazzo
January 07, 2020

Frequent exercise enhances and may even delay the aging of your immune system, according to a review in Frontiers in Immunology. The belief that your immune system is temporarily suppressed post-workout is shifting.

"Researchers had thought that because there are fewer immune cells in your blood one or two hours after exercise, those cells were dying or being deleted," says lead author John Campbell, Ph.D. "Actually, those cells are moving to other parts of the body and into other tissues to look for potential pathogens." (Related: Is Your Really Hard Workout Making You Sick?)

In fact, he says, the harder you go, the more immune cells move into the blood and then off hunting pathogens. Your best bet? Exercise on the regular, and mix up your intensity.

Another exercise benefit is that the lean muscle you build revs not only your metabolism but also your immunity: "If you have a higher muscle mass and you exercise, certain proteins are released from the muscle, and this is thought to have protective effects against cancer and other diseases," says Campbell. (Related: What You Need to Know About Stress and Exercise)

“You want to train to maintain your functional longevity,” says Jay Wright, the founder and CEO of the Wright Fit and TWF Performance Lab in New York and a Shape Brain Trust member. “Human beings were designed to run, jump, lift, and carry things, so we design routines around compound exercises that reinforce our natural movement patterns.”

Start with this do-it-all functional strength routine from Lauren Bustos, trainer at Performance Lab by The Wright Fit. It'll build functional strength, get your heart rate up, and challenge you just enough to boost your immune system without totally knocking you off your feet. (Another tip to note: Eating carbs post-workout might boost your immune system.)

How it works: Each circuit includes a weighted strength exercise, a plyo exercise, and a core exercise. Do each move for the number of reps indicated, repeating each circuit three times before moving onto the next.

What you'll need: A pair of medium-weight dumbbells.

Circuit 1

Strength: Wide-Stance Dumbbell Squat with Overhead Press

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at 45 degrees, dumbbells racked on shoulders.

B. Brace abs, hinge at hips, and bend knees to lower into a squat.

C. Press through the floor and squeeze glutes to stand up while pressing arms directly overhead.

D. Lower arms slowly to racked position to return to start.

Do 10 reps.

Plyo: Burpees

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.

B. Hinge at hips and bend knees to lower into a squat, placing hands on the floor underneath shoulders.

C. Jump feet backward into high plank position.

D. Jump feet forward, wider than hands, then explosively jump up, reaching hands overhead.

E. Land softly to return to start.

Do 10 reps. 

Core: Dead Bug

A. Lie face-up on the floor with legs in tabletop, arms reaching straight up over chest, core engaged so the lower back is pressing into the floor.

B. Simultaneously reach the left arm behind head and lower and extend the right leg to hover off the floor. Pause.

C. Return to start, then repeat on the other side.

Continue alternating for 30 seconds.

Circuit 2

Strength: Renegade Push-Up to Alternating Single-Arm Row

A. Start in a plank position, grasping a dumbbell in each hand.

B. Inhale and bend at elbows to lower body to the floor. Exhale and push back up.

C. Row the right dumbbell to base of ribs. Pause, then lower the dumbbell back down and repeat with left arm.

Do 10 reps.

Plyo: Tuck Jumps

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, core engaged, ribs closed.

B. Send hips back and swing arms back, to jump straight up, bringing knees toward chest and swinging arms forward to tap tops of thighs with elbows or hands.

B. Land softly with feet hip-width apart, without letting knees knock in, to return to start.

Do 10 reps.

Core: Single-Leg Hip Thrust

A. Lie face-up with arms extended by sides, left knee bent with the left foot planted on the floor, and right leg extended toward the ceiling.

B. Press left heel into the floor to press hips up off the floor.

C. Lower hips, only tapping the floor with tailbone.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; Repeat.

Circuit 3

Strength: Bulgarian Split Squat with Dumbbell Curl

A. Stand on the right foot approximately 3 feet in front of a bench or step, with the ball of the left foot on top of it, holding a dumbbell in each hand by sides. Keep hips squared forward, inner thighs and core engaged.

B. Send hips back and slowly bend right leg into a lunge, keeping the right knee in line with the second toe of the right foot.

C. Straighten the right leg while curling dumbbells toward shoulders, turning palms to face chest. Lower dumbbells to sides and bend the right leg to begin the next rep.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; Repeat.

Plyo: Split Lunge Jumps

A. Start in a right-leg lunge with both knees bent at 90 degrees and the left knee hovering just off the floor.

B. Exhale and jump to switch feet, landing softly in a left-leg lunge. That's one rep. Continue alternating.

Do 20 reps.

Core: Side Plank with Rotation

A. Start in a side plank, balancing on the left elbow and the outside of the left foot, with right arm extended toward the ceiling. (Scale down: Allow the bottom knee to rest on the floor.)

B. Exhale and thread right arm under torso, rotating shoulders toward the floor, controlling the rotation by engaging core.

C. Inhale to reach right arm toward the ceiling to return to start.

Continue rotating for 30 seconds.

Circuit 4

Strength: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift with Single-Arm Triceps Extension

A. Start standing on left leg, right foot just tapping the floor for balance, with dumbbell curled to chest in the right hand, palm facing in.

B. Engage core and hinge forward at hips, lifting right leg behind hip until chest is almost parallel to the floor.

C. Perform tricep extension by straightening then bending right arm.

D. Keeping spine naturally straight and core engaged, stand up to return to start.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; Repeat.

Plyo: Dive Bomber Push-Up

A. Start in high plank position. Shift hips up and back to move into a downward dog position.

B. Dive head forward through arms to an upward dog—as if skimming the floor with the forehead, chest, then belly button—to end in an upward dog position, knees off the floor and arms straight.

C. Shift hips up and back to return to start.

Do 10 reps.

Bear-Dog

A. Start on all fours. Tuck toes and lift knees so they're hovering two inches off the floor. (Scale down: Keep knees on the floor.)

B. Extend left arm and right leg to create a straight line parallel with the floor. Pause. Lower left arm and right leg.

C. Extend right arm and left leg, creating a straight line. Lower right arm and left leg.

Continue alternating for 30 seconds.

Shape Magazine, January/February 2020 issue
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