It's getting colder; people are spending more time indoors in closer proximity and its flu season!
Aside from washing your hands, drinking hot fluids, taking immune system boosters and following other influenza avoidance practices (e.g. immunization), physical activity is a GREAT way to boost our immune system in an effort to prevent the flu and or speed up recovery
(note: people who are physically active on a regular basis generally have efficient immune systems; therefore, recovery times are usually faster).
How does physical activity improve our immune systems? This is not a simple question to answer; however, scientists are working very hard to properly outline the many pathways in which physical activity functions to improve our immune functionality.
Below are a few simple findings:
- Individuals, who exercise regularly at a light to moderate intensity for 30 minutes on most days of the week, if not all, are at a significantly lower risk for respiratory infections.
- Activity lovers who exercise for 30-60 minutes on most days of the week have a 40% reduction in sick days during the cold season.
- Regular exercise helps the disease-fighting white blood cells in the body move from the organs into the bloodstream where they are able to combat and rid the invading pathogens.
Ok so what if you have the flu or the common cold? Is exercise recommended? People should approach this scenario very cautiously. Here are a few DOs and DONTs provided by an American College of Sports Medicine Press Release:
- DO exercise moderately if your cold symptoms are confined to your head. If you're dealing with a runny nose or sore throat, moderate exercise is permissible. Intense exercise can be resumed a few days after symptoms subside (in cases of the common cold).
- DON'T "sweat out" your illness. This is a potentially dangerous myth, and there is no data to support that exercise during an illness helps cure it.
- DO stay in bed if your illness is "systemic" – that is, spread beyond your head. Respiratory infections, fever, swollen glands and extreme aches and pains all indicate that you should rest up, not work out.
- DON'T jump back in too soon. If you're recovering from a more serious bout of cold or flu, gradually ease back into exercise after at least two weeks of rest.
So in general, if your symptoms are from the neck up, go ahead and do some light-moderate activity (e.g. nice power walk). However, if you have general aches and pains or a fever, it's important to rest well and allow your body to combat the illness (hopefully your body is primed by regular physical activity before the cold so it will respond faster).
Before I let you go, ACSM Fellow David C. Nieman, Dr.P.H. recommends light to moderate intensity before getting the flu shot as it will allow the body to respond better to the vaccine and give your system a little boost.
Hope this helps and don't forget to share your experiences related to this blog with the community below by commenting!
References, Resources and Recommended Readings: