New Lily

Cold and Flu Season…How Can Exercise Help (or Hurt)

Should we exercise when we have a cold?

Should we workout if we have a cold or a cough…or should we lay low for a while? Well, that depends on what the ailment is.  If your symptoms are from the neck up, meaning you have sniffles, a runny nose, headache and perhaps a very mild cough, it’s probably OK to perform a mild workout. The key is to make sure you have no difficulty breathing during or after a workout. Experts agree that going at one third your normal pace might be the best way to proceed and if you feel worse a few hours later – a few days rest are in order.

Fever is the limiting factor, says Lewis G. Maharam, MD, a New York City-based sports medicine expert. “The danger is exercising and raising your body temperature internally if you already have a fever, because that can make you even sicker,”  he says in a WEBMd article. If you have a fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, sit the workout out, he says.  I don’t know about most people, but when I have a fever of 101…the last thing I want to do is exercise.

Common sense leads most of us to conclude that if we feel bad…we rest and skip a day of exercise.  But there are also those who say that even when they have a cold or the flu…a workout makes them feel better.  There is the flu and there is the flu…if you know what I mean.  Symptoms of the flu can vary from mild to extreme.  The mild symptoms might allow someone to still exercise and even to feel better after a workout.  My husband recently had the flu and was in bed for two days.  Fever, aches, and chills are symptoms that usually prohibit us from exercising…and that is a good thing.

A very interesting study was done this year the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that looked at how exercise (and also meditation) effect the onset of acute respitory infection (ARI) which is really the sophisticated way of saying “the flu”.  Results of the study found that exercise and meditation both can positively effect our health and even correlate to getting the flu.

The study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine, showed that people older than 50 involved in mindfulness training can reduce the incidence, duration or severity of acute respiratory infections (ARI) by 40 to 50 percent and the use of exercise can reduce symptoms by 30 to 40 percent. Both study groups were compared with a third control group that did not meditate or exercise.

According to lead author Dr. Bruce Barrett, a family medicine physician and associate professor at the School of Medicine and Public Health, 149 older adults completed the study with 51 in the mediation group, 47 in the exercise group, and 51 in the control group.

Findings continue to support the benefit of regular exercise in strengthening the immune system, enabling it to fight viral and bacterial infections. According to research, when moderate exercise is repeated on a near daily basis, there is a cumulative immune-enhancing effect, which leads to a sustained response by the immune system to illness. When we exercise, our white blood cells — the blood cells that fight infections in the body — travel through the body more quickly, fighting bacteria and viruses (such as flu) more efficiently. To maintain good health, experts recommend that we workout at least 30 minutes each day…and that can be activities  such as walking, running, or biking.

I believe wholeheartedly that part of the reason I rarely get sick (cold and flu kind of sick) is that I exercise regularly and try to eat well.  However, I also know that sometimes working out a lot and not taking regular days of rest can also cause our immune system to become run down and we become more susceptible to illness.  We all know those runners and heavy exercisers who seem to get sick often…it seems pretty obvious to me why that might be happening. While our immune system is positively effected by regular exercise, it can be negatively effected by too much exercise.

The bottom line is that exercise is good…but balance is key.  Too little exercise can contribute to a weak immune system…but so can too much exercise.  I’m reminded of a quote from Saint Thomas Aquinas…”In the middle lies the virtue”.


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