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Improve Your Immune System

Several factors in an athlete's lifestyles can affect the immune system's ability to fight off illness.

Published January 20, 2012 10:07

Improve Your Immune System
Anne Keothavong

WHAT IS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?

The immune system is designed to keep the human body free from unwanted visitors that cause illness, such as viruses, bacteria, microbes and germs. It works to clean up and remove these unwelcome vermin, to destroy them quickly before they can make you sick, and then to clean up any leftover mess. It keeps your body healthy.

FIGHTING FIT

• The immune system keeps a record of every unwanted microbe or germ bacteria it has ever contacted. This means it can destroy the microbe very quickly if it enters the body again before it can multiply and make you feel sick.
• But, if one group of cells is not performing its job properly, then the whole system will be less effective. Reduce the numbers or the strength of one part of the immune system, and it won't work as efficiently and the foreign germs may just take up residence and make you sick.
• To keep your immune system fighting fit requires that you pay attention to all aspects of your health and physical fitness, including:

• Good nutrition 
• Proper hydration
• Training amount
• Rest and sleep
• Updated immunizations
• Recovery techniques
• Stress management
• Healthy social interactions
• Type and method of training
• Hobbies and non-tennis activities
• Medical and dental check-ups
• Mental health

THE EXERCISE AND IMMUNE PARADOX

WHY MORE IS NOT BETTER…
Although more research is needed in this complex area, it appears that:
1. Moderate exercise improves the immune system so it works better.
• It increases the numbers and strength of some important immune system cells.
• It makes the whole system work better as a coordinated, efficient team.
2. Intense bursts of exercise and prolonged training can actually depress the immune system.
• Intense exercise decreases the size and strength of the immune system.
• you should schedule a rest day once a week to "recharge" the immune system. 
• Aim for balance in all aspects of training and life.

LIFESTYLE FACTORS

Other factors in an athlete's lifestyle decrease the immune system's ability to fight off sickness: 

Factor Effect On Immune System
Nutrition • Dietary deficiencies (e.g. vitamins B6, C & E, essential fatty acids, iron, zinc and others). Reduces capacity of system to fight illnesses. May benefit from using a reputable health supplement such as USANA
• Substances use and abuse (Alcohol, drugs and cigarettes) can negatively affect the immune system
Environment • Changes in air quality (pollution), temperature, altitude and time zone differences, sleep deprivation, foreign food, all affect the immune system
Muscle Damage • Micro-trauma to muscle fibers occurs with all exercise, even without injury.
• Some immune cells are used for muscle repair, and create oxidant free radicals.
Psychological Stress • Stress decreases immunity. In elite tennis stress can include:
• Reduced social contact and too much time in specific goal-orientated activities.
• Too much or incorrect training and not enough recovery.
• Competition.


Don't worry, be happy: Studies indicate happy people have better immune systems.

IMMUNE SYSTEM IMPROVERS

REGULATE AND PERIODIZE TRAINING
• Be careful about increasing training before competition
• Schedule rest days and weeks.
USE RECOVERY METHODS to balance workload.
• Hydrotherapies, massage, lower-intensity training days.
SLEEP restful sleep helps your immune system to be fighting fit.
REDUCE TRAINING if signs of overtraining occur.
• Excess fatigue, performance slump, muscle soreness, low motivation, injuries which don't heal, elevated morning pulse rate.
• Use a training diary to monitor your immune system function and training load.
EAT A WELL BALANCED DIET
•  Include plenty of fruit and vegetables (vitamin C) and meat or meat substitutes (for zinc).
• Treat any deficiencies under medical supervision.
 ALWAYS WASH AND DRY HANDS
•  To reduce your exposure to harmful organisms and to help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.
• Every time: after the toilet, when you cough and sneeze and when you handle food!
• Avoid food which is potentially touched by many people. For example: open breadbaskets, bowls of nuts or chips where no utensils are provided. 
AIRPLANE TRAVEL
• Use hand sanitizer and avoid contact with sick people.
• Take and use a mask if someone seated near you is sick.
UPDATE VACCINATIONS and keep them updated. (Chicken pox, measles, mumps and rubella)
• Consider an influenza vaccination each October.
REDUCE STRESS
• Learn relaxation, yoga, meditation, prayer, listen to music, read, walk/pat the dog, enjoy social activities with friends, laugh…
• Happy people have better immune systems and stay healthier!
IF YOU DO GET SICK…
• Upper respiratory infections are common. If you get sick, seek and follow medical guidance.
• REST is the most important aspect of recovery. Take a few days off to allow your immune system to fight off the illness.
• Continuing to exercise when sick will prolong your recovery, cause more fatigue and will not help your performance.

The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice.  The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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