Fitness Magazine

Friday Practical Pointers: You Should Care About Your Immune System

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Friday Practical Pointers: You Should Care About Your Immune System

The Wounded Man by Gustav Courbet

It’s that time of year again, when it seems like everyone is getting sick with a cold or flu. Maybe you yourself have been laid up for the last few weeks with a lingering cough and fatigue. On top of that, maybe you or a close friend or family member has just been diagnosed with cancer or an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Turns out your immune system is involved in all these situations. 

You see, your immune maintains your good health on several levels. It identifies and tries to eliminate foreign invaders in your body, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites that make it past the skin, lungs, and gut lining of our bodies, as well as foreign bodies, such as dirt or slivers, that get under our skin. It also scans our body fluids for early cancer cells and eliminates many of them. In doing this, it attempts to distinguish between the cells that make up our “self” from those that don’t. And when it doesn’t do that well, the immune system sometimes turns on our own tissues, as in auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and Grave’s disease (a thyroid condition). 

The immune system consists of:

  1. Bone marrow. This produces a variety of cells, some of which the immune system uses to protect us. 
  2. Specialized white blood cells. These develop in the bone marrow and in the thymus gland and become the various specialized white blood cells, such as T cells. 
  3. Circulatory system. This moves the white blood cells around the body to where they are be needed. 
  4. Lymphatic circulation and vessels. These reclaim body fluids that have escaped from our capillaries, as well as any unwanted molecules or organisms that might be in that fluid. 
  5. Lymph nodes. These filter the lymphatic fluid flowing through our lymph vessels and trigger the immune response when infectious organisms, dirt molecules, or cancer cells are detected 
  6. Specialized immune tissue or outposts along the digestive track, such as the tonsils in the throat and Peyer’s patches in the small intestines. These act like lymph nodes outside of the normal lymphatic circulatory vessels. 
The immune system works in concert with many other important systems of the body, including the circulatory system, nervous system and endocrine system. Of particular interest to us yoga practitioners is how our immune system interacts with our nervous system. When you are stressed out and your nervous system triggers the Fight or Flight response, your immune system is put on temporary hold, as your body has bigger, immediate threats to deal with. Once the danger has passed, and your nervous system switches to the Rest and Digest response, your immune system is turned back on and can once again provide its protective services. 

Although it may be obvious from what I have already laid out for you, we should care about the immune system because it is our primary defense against infection, invasion, and even cancer. And because it is interconnected with so many other systems of the body, when it is functioning optimally, it positively impacts the whole body. Conversely, when it is not functioning well, we get sick more easily, cancer cells may not be cleared effectively, and the immune system may sometimes even attack healthy parts of our bodies. So there are three big reasons to pay attention to keeping it healthy as we age! 

Next week, I will share with you specific techniques that Nina and I recommend for doing just that, which will go into more detail than what I have recommended in the past (see Yoga and the Immune System). 

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