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The Runner's Body - Part 5, The Immune System

Posted Jul 08 2010 11:00am
Here it is! (Finally) The final part of The Runner's Body. If you haven't read the first 4 parts, I have included them below.

The Runner's Body - Part 1, The Musculoskeletal System

The Runner's Body - Part 2, The Cardiorespiratory System

The Runner's Body - Part 3, The Metabolic System

The Runner's Body - Part 4, The Central Nervous System

Part 5 - The Immune System
This section of the book was probably my favorite section because it talks about the positive effects running has on our health. Sure we run because we love to, and I think many of us would still run even if it was proven that running is bad for the body. I'm know many runners who have had to have the conversation with a friend or loved "nonrunner" in which they had to defend our beloved sport. My favorite (least favorite?) is

"God only gives you so many steps, how quickly you want to use those steps is up to you."
Ughhhh pleaseeeee. Anyway, my point is that running is a great way to keep the body healthy, just maybe not in the way you thought it did. Or maybe, even more than you knew!

According to The Runner's Body, as well as numerous other studies, "Running challenges the immune system in a number of ways. To begin with, a single hard run temporarily suppresses immune function, increasing the body's susceptibility to infection." I have had plenty of experience with this first hand. After I ran my first 2 half marathons I immediately caught a cold the next day. Before my first half the most I had ever run at one time was 10 miles. That combined with running harder in the race and being exposed to hundreds of people and their germs and I was sneezing up a storm the very next day.

Fortunately, in the long run, running makes the immune system stronger. Furthermore, the benefits go even beyond fewer stuffy noses and fevers. A strong immune system has the ability to fight off cancer as well as other life threatening diseases.


Radicals and Inflamers: This chapter explained how our immune system works to prevent disease and injury. It also provides a chart of foods (mainly fruits, vegetables, and legumes) that boost our immune system further. The chapter also addresses how over training can hurt and run down the immune system and offers solutions so that we do not become over trained.

Outrunning IllnessThis chapter advises what to do if you do get sick and how to attempt to prevent coming sick right before a big race. It reiterates that there is a fine line between optimum training (moderate) and over training. When we over train, the risk of infection increases. The chapter also addresses the immune system's role in cancer prevention. There are many ways that exercise and a strong immune system help to prevent cancer and even when it does fail, regular exercise helps to slow growth and even reverse it.

In the Long Run: Aging and Running Performance: This chapter discusses the affect of aging on running. Due to the many physiological changes associated with aging, decline is unfortunately inevitable. Fortunately, genes and the age at which you started running also play a role in the aging process. The important thing is to be sensible, listen to your body and manage stress carefully.

What I learned~The immune system plays a large role in recovery from our runs. The stronger the immune system, the better able the body is to reduce inflammation after hard runs and workouts.
~A healthy diet also helps the body to better manage inflammation. I knew a healthy diet strengthened the immune system but I didn't realize diet had an impact on inflammation as well.
~Any nutritional deficiency weakens the immune system. It sounds obvious but for a strong and healthy immune system we must eat an adequate and balanced amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
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