The cheapest way to keep your immune system strong

If you’re searching for the best way to stay healthy, whether you’re concerned about COVID-19 right now, prepping for the upcoming double-whammy of influenza/coronavirus season we’ve been warned about or just trying to avoid a summer cold, I have a suggestion…

Rather than spend wads of dough on teas, tonics, pills and potions to give your immune system a much-needed boost, take a different approach.

Because even though most of those familiar immune remedies can give you a boost, to some degree or another, nothing’s quite as effective as a free remedy you can put into action ASAP — exercise.

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Exercise rallies your immune defenders

In a Time article that ran during last year’s flu season, David Nieman, a professor of public health and director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University who’s studied the effect of exercise on the immune system for years, says loud and clearly: Exercise is the best natural way to ward off cold and flu bugs this season.

And it doesn’t take much… just a 30-minute walk.

A 2005 study Nieman published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise revealed that walking briskly for 30 minutes increased the number of natural killer cells, white blood cells and other important immune cells circulating in the body. These cells can help protect you from everything from colds to cases of flu to cancer. So, the sooner you strap on those Reeboks the better.

But there is a catch when you’re using walking as an immune booster…

Related: Kick the common cold 3xs faster

The immune cells released during exercise only stay on the clock for about three hours. After that, they nestle back into the body’s tissues for a nap.

That means, in order the reap the immune benefits of exercise, you must do it regularly. Somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes daily should keep your immune system revved up and ready to fight viral invaders, according to Nieman.

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Exercising guidelines for immune support

Now, if you’re exercising to prevent yourself from getting sick this cold and flu season, you may be tempted to adopt the philosophy: more is better. But when it comes to exercise and your immune system, that’s not always the case.

While a reasonable amount of daily exercise makes your immune system stronger, exercising too much can tax your immune system, making you more vulnerable to those nasty viruses going around. That’s because, when you exercise too intensely for too long, your body releases stress hormones, which suppress your immune system.

How do you know how much is too much?

Well, Nieman says getting 75 minutes or more of intense exercise per day is probably overdoing it.

And if you’re wondering what type of exercise acts as the best immune booster, Nieman recommends moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like walking, cycling or jogging. It has the most research behind it when it comes to immune system support. Resistance training’s impact on the immune system hasn’t been studied much yet.

Another crucial tip? Once you’re already sick, the time for exercise has passed. Exercising when you’re already sick will usually make things worse because your body needs all its energy to fight the virus at hand.

For tips on getting your exercise on during the pandemic, read more here.


  1. Here’s the Best Way to Boost Your Immune System — Time
  2. Immune response to a 30-minute walk — Europe PMC
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and