Does Walking Boost the Immune System?

Last December I got a cold. It was my third one of the year.

Colds are never fun, but they are particularly annoying in my line of work. I talk on the radio. Not only do I feel bad when I have a cold, my listeners feel bad too. There’s something about hearing somebody with a cold that makes you want to change the station.

I don’t usually get three colds a year so I started wondering if I was doing something wrong. The trigger for that question was my wife, Ava. She never gets a cold. I wanted to figure out what she was doing right and mimic that.

In other words, I wanted to boost my immune system.

So, I did a little research. It didn’t take long to spot a big difference between what Ava does and what I do. I made a change, and so far I haven’t had any colds since.

It’s very important for you to understand that I’m not a doctor. I’m also not an expert on the immune system, although I find the topic interesting. What follows will be a combination of my own experience and some expert opinions from Harvard Research.

The thing that makes colds miserable is the immune system at work. The sore throat, congestion, runny nose, and cough aren’t the germs at work, but are really the result of my body fighting the cold germs. The immune system is both fascinating and misery making!

It’s also so complex that scientists can’t find a provable direct link between our actions and our immune system. There’s also a debate about whether it’s even possible to “boost” your immune system. Some researchers come at it from the other angle suggesting our immune system “is what it is” and instead talk about how not to weaken it.

That said, experts on both sides of the issue generally land on the same advice. For our immune system to work well we should be making healthy choices. This was the advice I discovered when I went searching for answers last December.

Here’s what those experts suggest we do to give our immune system a better chance of fighting germs:

Don’t smoke

Eat nutritious foods with an emphasis on lots of fruits and veggies

Get regular exercise

Maintain a healthy weight

Limit alcohol

Get enough sleep

Minimize stress

Is there anything in that list that surprises you? I’m guessing no. But, when I read it in December something jumped out at me. I’ve seen this list before…many time, in fact…but, this time I saw it differently.  I’m not entirely sure why that happened, but I have a theory.

For more than a decade I’ve been on a fitness journey. I have a lot of momentum now and am enjoying the results of not giving up. That’s part of the motivation behind this blog. Walking for exercise has changed my life and it’s an activity that is available to just about everyone. It’s effective, flexible, sustainable, and fun! Waking is fitness hiding in plain sight.

Here’s my theory. Because I’m doing really well with the “regular exercise” part of that list I think I have felt like it’s enough and everything else on the list was “blah, blah, blah.” Plus, the exercise helps me maintain my healthy weight and minimizes stress. So, those three things were pretty much covered.

Also, I don’t smoke and alcohol is not a problem. And, I don’t eat much junk food and have been slowly making changes to my diet, plus I love strawberries and blueberries.

Oh, and one more thing. A few years ago I started making a concerted effort to stop touching my face unless it was right after I washed my hands. Last year, I finally got to a point where I was pretty hand-face aware. 

In other words…I’m doing all the right stuff and I’m still getting a bunch of colds every year and Ava is not. What’s going on?

And, that’s when I noticed the really weak link in my lifestyle choices.

I suspect I’m not the only person these days who’s wondering what can we do to keep from getting sick. The human immune system is getting more than it’s allowed 15 minutes of fame right now.

Sadly, experts can’t tell us definitively what to do to prevent illness. Instead, they all suggest we live as healthy as we can. That list of choices feels more important than ever.

As you were reading the list did you see anything you can improve? Nothing on that list is easy. It might even feel like a huge mountain to you. Please don’t be discouraged. Change is always possible. And, the best way is by starting small and making a commitment to stick with it.

If you struggle with the exercise part, I recommend walking. If you’re already walking, how about walking more? It’s not hard to transform your walking into exercise which experts tell us probably has a positive impact on your immune system.

And, walking for exercise can actually be fun. If you’re looking for ways to move more check out this free guide to “37 Easy Ways to Add 1,000 Steps.” It includes ideas you probably have never considered. And…it’s quarantine friendly!

I also recommend a Fitbit. It’ll change your perspective on walking and exercise. I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use to track my 20,000 steps a day. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

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(By the way…if you use the links in this article to make a purchase this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)

Sleep.

That was the thing on the immune system list that I noticed because I was really comparing Ava’s choices with mine. She also eats well, exercises regularly, doesn’t smoke, etc…but, the biggest difference between the two of us was our sleep. She gets more than me and has fewer colds then me.

I decided to make a big sleep change and, so far, the results have been encouraging.

I wish I could say improving your immune system is as easy as making one change. But, the human body is too complex and mysterious for anyone to say that. I can only tell you my story and emphasize it is MY STORY. That said, moving towards healthier choices, as the experts suggest, often leads to healthier outcomes.

In two weeks I’m going to give you more detail about the sleep changes I made and how my Fitbit was a huge part of making that happen.

But, next week is something completely different.  It’s a big week and in next Wednesday’s article I’m going to get a little reflective and tell you five short stories. 

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