Finding Balance in Training| What Helps and Harms Your Immunity?

Ask any newcomer at the studio, and they’ll likely cite “getting in shape” as their reason for being there. Ask a veteran boxer, and they will include increased confidence, discipline, stress relief, comradery and, most importantly, better health as reasons for staying. It’s common knowledge that regular exercise lowers the risk of life-threatening illnesses including cancer and diabetes. In general, exercise is also a cornerstone of good health and a healthy immune system, but only up to a point.

How Exercise Supports Immunity

Sticking to your training schedule does more than just keep your blood moving, it also jumpstarts the cells in your body that kill bacteria. In a person that doesn’t exercise, these cells are sluggish and slow to attack, but moderate amounts of training keep them on alert and ready for action. A year of moderate exercise can decrease a woman’s chances of catching the common cold by 50%, proof that a bit of activity goes a long way toward enhancing the immune system.

How Exercise Lowers Immunity

The flip side is that too much exercise can have the opposite effect. Work out at a high-intensity for an extended period, and you risk losing a few white blood cells – the ones that fight infection. Plus, the body will increase its cortisol levels, making it harder for immune cells to be at their best. These hormonal changes can even lower a body’s total number of immune cells (including white blood cells) during and after workouts, leaving you at an increased risk of infection.

Dr. David Nieman helped establish these truths regarding exercise and immunity:

  • Regular moderate exercise lowers upper respiratory tract infection rates while improving immunosurveillance
  • Heavy exertion increases infection rates while causing transient changes in immune function

This is useful information, but how do you find the sweet spot that lies between regular moderate exercise and heavy exertion – an amount that is enough to support immunity without suppressing it? It’s complicated, but overall, you’ll want to remain consistently active without going overboard.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Overtraining happens to the best of us. It’s not something you’ll typically see coming, because it tends to sneak up on a person and then hit hard – way after the point when you could have course corrected. One reason we are blindsided is the Law of Diminishing Returns, a concept that states that increased effort will sometimes bring about a negative result.

Initially an economic principle, the law also applies to gains seen (or not seen) in the studio. Consider that the most impressive physical results typically arrive at the beginning of a person’s training journey. It’s often the fuel that keeps a beginner headed toward the next goal and establishing good habits, but at some point in their progress, every boxer encounters the dreaded plateau or a snare along the route where we cease to make progress.

Frustration and bewilderment engulf a contender when their once enormously successful training routine stops yielding results. After a bit of time spinning wheels, our next response is to up everything – intensity, resistance, training time – hoping to ramp up and produce more positive outcomes. Hard work got us here, right? So, it stands to reason that harder work will push us through to the other side. In some instances, it’s a possibility, but really think this through, because training too hard will likely have the opposite effect and you’ll soon see the Law of Diminishing Returns in action.

Rest is at the Core of Health

Sure, once you reach a plateau, you might want to tweak a thing or two within your regular sessions. However, a Gloveworx coach might also encourage you to cut back on your training time or take a day off now and again. Maybe you didn’t expect to hear this from an expert, but a knowledgeable coach will want to prevent burn-out and is hyper-aware of the fine line between training and overtraining. One builds your health, while the other tears it down, and you need optimal health and a robust immune system to advance.

Good health and immunity depend on many things but adequate time for rest is essential for boxers. Physiologically speaking, exercise is the definition of stress on your body and boxers, in particular, perform a lot of repetitive actions that cause stress. These movements are wonderful in moderate amounts, and while we want to challenge ourselves enough to benefit, we also need to offset our training time with activities that reduce the stress to allow for strong immunity, muscle repair, muscle growth and a relaxed, invigorated mind.

Still not sure where the line is? Remember, more isn’t always better. Train for results consistently, but only up to the point of stress relief and not beyond. Once you feel that you have moved past relieving your current stress levels and into increasing them, your immune system is likely suffering, and you’ll need to back off to stay well.

Pay attention to more than just how many days you worked out and for how long. Focus also on your energy levels, mental well-being and how your body feels from the activity level you are currently maintaining. To go the distance, you’ll have to start listening to yourself and make rest a supporting pillar in your training plan.

Train Smarter not Harder

Good health is about more than how long you can stay in the ring. It’s a long process and depends on what we do day in and day out. Boxing brings with it numerous health benefits, so don’t be discouraged by the mixed signals surrounding exercise levels and immunity. Just remember that training involves more than muscle; it takes strategy too.

Train smarter, not harder is a very fitting adage here. Our immune systems, just like our minds, can only withstand constant pressure for so long. It’s up to you to find balance inside and outside of the ring to provide your body with the adequate amounts of stress and rest needed for optimal health. When in doubt, or for help moving past a training plateau without stepping into the cringe-worthy Law of Diminishing Returns, ask for guidance during your next Gloveworx training session.