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The highly trained athlete and immune balance

Posted Jul 17 2011 5:15pm

I’m watching the championship match of the Women’s World Cup. I cannot respect these soccer athletes enough. They are hard-nosed, gritty, tough and they can run 20 miles during the match and still have gas in the tank when the match is finished. In other words, they are highly conditioned. I’d rate soccer players with marathoners and triathletes as being the best conditioned athletes anywhere.

One thing about highly trained athletes: their immune health can be compromised when their exertion levels are at their peak. Regular exercise in moderation can certainly improve immune health, but the stress extreme training and exertion puts on the immune system can weaken it. In a report from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the conclusion states: “Many components of the immune system exhibit adverse change after prolonged, heavy exertion lasting longer than 90 minutes. These immune changes occur in several compartments of the immune system and body (e.g., the skin, upper respiratory tract mucosal tissue, lung, blood, and muscle). During this “open window” of impaired immunity (which may last between three and 72 hours, depending on the immune measure), viruses and bacteria may gain a foothold, increasing the risk of subclinical and clinical infection. Thus risk of upper respiratory tract infections can increase when athletes push beyond normal limits.” Certain classes of immune cells appear to alter their activity during periods of extreme physical stress on the body.

So, the lesson is: anything an athlete can do to provide immune balance–supporting greater immune response during periods of immune suppression that come from prolonged training and exertion–would be a good thing.

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