Bodybuilding weakens the heart

When exercise strengthens / weakens the immune system

Exercise and Immune System. This time we are looking into the question of how you can generally strengthen your body's defenses with sport - and when less (sport) is more.

By Klaus Molidor

Two euros into the phrase pig for this sentence: “Sport is healthy.” We have known for a long time, is scientifically proven and with sufficient examples from practice - see, for example, the story with the 82-year-old running club leader Sepp Lind. Movement also helps in cancer prevention, has positive effects on the cardiovascular system, bone metabolism, digestion, the psyche and of course the immune system.

And yet: how exactly is the connection between sport and the immune system? Many don't know that exactly. We therefore want to get to the bottom of the question here. Together with the sports doctor Dr. Klaus Pribitzer, who also looks after Austria's ski ace. And who has a lot of experience in terms of physical performance even under exceptionally stressful conditions (high-performance sport, cold ...).

"Training in basic endurance, two or three times a week, is ideal for the immune system," says Pribitzer. If the intensity is moderate, you can start doing it soon after an infection has been overcome.

What is already less known: Two to three strength or coordination units per week also strengthen the immune system. "Strength training builds muscle mass, so you can store more carbohydrates and thus simply have more reserves that you can tap into without being at the last point."

The breaks between the units are also very important. Anyone who does a hill run or a speed unit for around an hour needs 48 hours of regeneration afterwards. "During this time, the body is vulnerable because the number of white blood cells drops and viruses and bacteria have an easier time during this phase."

So it is important to find the balance between stress and relief. Most at risk are athletes who have no time to move during the week. "These so-called 'Weekend Warriors' then believe that they have to catch up on everything on Saturday and Sunday," says Pribitzer, often achieving exactly the opposite.

In general, if you want to increase your volume without putting undue strain on your immune system, you should do it slowly and with patience - and not from zero to 100. If you train too much and too intensively and, above all, take too few recovery phases, you should a dangerous window opens, the so-called open window effect. The body is extremely susceptible to infections and is more difficult to cope with the attacks on the immune system than usual. "The big problem here is that you only notice it when it's too late," says Klaus Pribitzer.

His recipe for the early detection of an impending overload: measure your pulse. "If the resting heart rate is increased by around five to ten beats over a few days after waking up in bed, that can be a sign of an impending infection." Then you should reduce the intensity immediately or, ideally, stop exercising. "A blood test can then also be useful to see what the nutrients are like." The body is also vulnerable when it is under stress. "Therefore, after an intensive, stressful day at work, you shouldn't do hard and demanding training in the evening, but rather move moderately," says Pribitzer.

Even if everyone has different physical requirements and is of different fitness: Less is often more, especially for the immune system. For example, if you run relaxed every other day, you increase the number of your natural killer cells by 50 percent. Viruses and bacteria therefore have much less chance of attacking and weakening the organism.

Exercise in the aerobic area also has an influence on the psyche: Anyone who moves, perhaps even in a beautiful environment, releases 10 to 15 times as many endorphins as a couch potato and thus triggers an almost addictive well-being. "Those who feel good are less afraid, the stress hormone cortisol also falls, as does blood pressure - and this also strengthens the immune system," says Pribitzer.

Nevertheless, there are a few things to consider, especially in the cold season and in the transition period. For example, that you don't get cold after exercising. That means: Take off your wet clothes quickly and take a warm shower. When doing sport, you should make sure that no heat accumulates on the body, that there is no feeling of wetness and that you are not exposed to drafts. “You should take a second hood with you on ski tours and change your socks when you are up there. A lot of heat is lost through the feet and head. "

And something can also be done when it comes to drinking: “Cold drinks are bad, especially in winter. The body then has to work harder to bring them up to body temperature. "Those who drink warm instead of running cold are much more likely to give viruses and bacteria the cold shoulder.

At a glance: This is how athletes strengthen their immune system ...

Sufficient and restful sleep is important for the immune system.

Movement is good for you. Best in the area of ​​basic endurance, i.e. with a low heart rate.

Those who are stressed are more susceptible to infections. And: after a stressful day, it is better to train more easily than intensely.

Don't dress too warm and not too cold. Take off wet clothing immediately after exercising. The feet and head are particularly sensitive.

Before going to bed, do not consume any raw food and generally only eat easily digestible food. Ideally, four hours should pass between eating and training.

The expert

DR. KLAUS PRIBITZER, 38, is a sports medicine specialist in Graz.

Pribitzer has also been a team doctor at the ÖSV since 2010, taking care of Marcel Hirscher & Co. at the Night Race in Schladming or at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. At the 2017 World Championships, he works for the speed men.


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