Movement for Good Health fights infection!

New research suggests movement boosts immunity

Your bones are not just the scaffolding for your muscles and nerves and skin; they’re an active factory for essential components of your immune system. You need healthy bones to fight infection. That’s why regular exercise is critical to your immune system, your defence against illness.

In a paper published in Nature in February this year, scientists at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern identified special places inside the bone marrow (niches) where new bone and, importantly, immune cells are produced.

The last year has taught us all the value of a healthy, active immune system – and we’ve relearnt the lesson of HIV, that immune system components originating in the marrow, such as T-cells, are critical to fighting invading pathogens like COVID-19. It’s not just about having antibodies to COVID-19 – it’s also about having a flourishing bone marrow factory.

As another Nature article from February 2021 notes, “scientists are hopeful that T cells — a group of immune cells that can target and destroy virus-infected cells — could provide some immunity to COVID-19, even if antibodies become less effective” due to new variants circulating.

Here’s the good news! The study on niches in the bone marrow shows that “movement-induced stimulation is required for the maintenance of this niche, as well as the bone and immune-forming cells that it contains. Together, these findings identify a new way that exercise strengthens bones and immune function.”

Exercise is not just good for a toned body that moves easily – it helps your immune system work and fight infection!

“Exercise – being active – on a regular basis has been shown repeatedly to improve immune function,” says Rogier van Bever Donker, president of the South African Society of Physiotherapy. “This new study is helping us unpick exactly how it achieves this.”

The body is so cleverly and cunningly constructed that, to do their job, the cells involved need the mechanical forces exerted by simple movement like walking or running.

“This is why it’s so important to be physically active,” says van Bever Donker. Daily activity, ranging from walking the dog, digging in the veggie patch and sweeping the house, right up to high-intensity training at the gym, work to make your body more resilient and better able to cope with assaults from pathogens like SARS-CoV2.

“May is the month when we as physiotherapists celebrate and support Movement for Good Health,” says van Bever Donker. “This year, as we gear up to get vaccinated and boost our immunity in that way, we think it’s critical that South Africans get physically active. Doing something daily that makes you puff a little, maybe break a sweat, will prime your immune system and build even stronger defences.”

If you have any concerns about aches and pains, consult your physiotherapist.

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