What Happens To The Immune System Of Couch Potatoes?
Hours of binge watching our favourite series, eating loads of pizzas and chips, uninterrupted video games and long slumbers have done too much damage to our bodies. Let's face it, we've turned into couch potatoes!
But this physical inactivity can accumulate over spans of weeks and months and the physical inactivity effects can cause a cascade of unfavourable changes in our bodies, particularly compromising the immune function. This ineffective immune system may not be able to handle unusual situations, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic or similar infections in future, making us vulnerable to it.
How Does Sedentary Lifestyle Impact Immunity?
For a couch potato, with inadequate stimulation of the immune system, the function of the immune cells that make up the immune system may be subdued:
1. Inflammation levels may rise!
Research indicates that physical inactivity can cause us to develop a chronic low level of inflammatio increase our likelihood of developing non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, stroke etc. and also increase our susceptibility to infections.
2. Natural killer cells (a type of immune cells) become lazy!
Our immune system is comprised of different types of cells with specialised functions. One of the most vital are a type of lymphocyte known as natural killer cells (NK cells). These cells are like policemen; they are able to identify and kill virus infected cells, microbes and even tumour cells. During long sedentary periods, the activity of these cells is known to reduce, thereby leaving you more susceptible to infection and disease.
3. Immune cell production plummets!
One of the other major types of immune cells are the T-lymphocytes, they are produced in the bone marrow and mature in the thymus, giving them the "T" in their name. These cells have various subsets and are responsible for identifying infective agents and tagging them as foreign threats. Additionally, they also help to directly eliminate infected cells and are a key part of our adaptive immune response. T-cells production drops during inactivity, this can leave our bodies' vulnerable to attacks by invading pathogens like, viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites etc.
4. Communication modes become ineffective!
The term cytokines encompass a set of signalling molecules that help in communication between immune cells and therefore help to mediate immune response and inflammation in the body.
When we remain inactive for long periods of time, our immune system can fall into disarray because there is a drop in the production of cytokines, leading to poor communication within the various immune cells in our body.
Physical inactivity can create a loop of anxiety and mental stress and affect our sleep cycles, which only further aggravate the harm caused to our immune function. Immune system dysfunction can make us more susceptible to infection and even worsen over body's ability to cope with other disease processes. It is now generally agreed upon by doctors and researchers that most forms of moderate-intensity exercise beneficial for good immune function and disease resistance
It's Never Too Late…to start exercising!
If you have been a couch potato, starting with any kind of physical activity would help. The best way to start…is to start! There are three main mechanisms through which physical activity can improve the protective function of our immune systems
1. Blood circulation improves.
Increased physical activity can cause a series of changes in the way our blood is circulated throughout our body. This allows leucocytes or white blood cells (WB C) to reach potentially infected tissues and membranes in our body more effectively leading to better immune surveillance.
2. Immune systems become agile.
An effective immune surveillance, can help our bodies recognize the potential threats like viruses, bacteria, fungi etc. quickly.
3. Lymphatic circulation improves.
The lymph fluid, lymph nodes and spleen play a major role in creating a robust immune response. Physical activity can also promote circulation and drainage of the lymphatic fluids, through movements of muscles and increased blood circulation and oxygenation.
Through a combination of these mechanisms, physical activity can greatly enhance our body's immune response and thereby our resistance to infection. Even simple exercises can improve blood circulation and our body's defences. It therefore vital for us to shake our complacency and get moving.
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- Damiot A, Pinto AJ, Turner JE, Gualano B. Immunological Implications of Physical Inactivity among Older Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Gerontology. 2020;66(5):431-438.