So it is a fact, cold and flu season has arrived! No matter where I seem to be, whether it is at the grocery store or gym, I can hear the nasty sounds of coughing and sneezing surrounding me. YUCK! But, I know that if I’m taking the right steps in building my immune system and preventing a nasty bug from settling into my system for the winter…then I know I will hopefully have a good, if not, great chance of beating it!
Questions arise daily with my clients about exercise and illness. Is it okay to exercise if I have a cold? Does exercise help prevent illness? A lot of us are going to get sick this year, so it’s good to know what to do if it happens to you. But what about preventing illness in the first place? We all make a conscious effort to take our vitamins and eat a balanced diet of proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables, but can exercise help protect you from getting a cold or the flu? Research says yes!
According to experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, “multiple studies have shown a 25% to 50% decrease in sick time for active people who complete at least 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.” The protection that regular exercise offers is far greater than the protection drugs can provide, according to the article. So instead of taking a pill, take a walk or get to the gym to help ward off a cold!
Despite your best efforts, you might still end up getting the sniffles this winter. So how do you determine if you are too sick to exercise? Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to exercise and to simply just wanting to feel better!
The good news is that you can continue with mild or moderate exercise if you have a cold with no fever. Moderate exercise may even help you feel better by temporarily relieving nasal congestion. If you’ve got a cold that’s above the neck (runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, etc.) then you should be okay to proceed with exercise if you’re feeling up to it. To be honest, I typically feel better after a moderate workout when I have a cold, which by the way, is very rare!
However, if you have symptoms that are below the neck such as chest congestion or tightness, hacking cough, fever or upset stomach, it’s better to rest and postpone your workout. As always use common sense and listen to your body. If you are not feeling well but still want to exercise, reduce the intensity of your workout. If your symptoms worsen with exercise, then stop and rest. Missing a few days will not destroy everything you have accomplished in the gym. In fact, it may even help you come back stronger and healthier!
Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Catching a Cold In the First Place?
While moderate training has shown to reduce your risk of catching a cold, make sure you take time for rest and recovery after periods of intensive training. Your immune system fights most effectively when it isn’t stressed. Therefore, after high intensity training sessions such as weight training or sprint sessions, your immune system is compromised and more susceptible to germs and viruses. Research confirms that a moderate exercise program may increase immunity and your resistance to respiratory infections. But scientists also note that athletes who train rigorously without recovery are more susceptible to viral infections like colds or flu.
While immunity is boosted when you work out moderately, the opposite may be true for elite or high-performance athletes such as fitness athletes, hockey players, triathletes (to name a few) who push their physical limits with intense training without sufficient recovery. For example, there’s evidence of suppressed immunity during times of prolonged and intense exercise training with an increased number of upper respiratory tract infections. When workouts become stressful or excessive, there can be decreased amounts of white blood cells circulating throughout your body and increased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which may inhibit the ability of certain immune cells to work properly.
So, let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can make it through this season without missing a day in the gym due to illness. Our immune system is unique and powerful, especially to prevent virus infection. So, in order to support your health and prevent sickness, consume a balanced diet rich in nutrients, exercise daily and avoid alcohol, refine sugar and excessive fat. However, if we do happen to catch that nasty bug that is going around… remember…listen to your body, it really does know best!
Just a few tips to keep your immune system healthy!
- Get enough sleep. You should get between six to eight hours of sleep every night to maintain your health, and researchers have found that less sleep can give you higher risk for infection. Sleep has also been linked to balanced hormone levels (including human growth hormone and the stress hormone, cortisol), keeping weight down, clear thinking and reasoning, improved mood, and vibrant, healthy skin.
- Eat plenty of protein. Protein is a building block for a healthy body, mind, and immune system. Diets low in protein tend to be high in carbs, which convert easily into glucose, spiking blood sugar and stressing the pancreas and the immune system.
- Drink plenty of water. This is a MUST! Most headaches occur because people still aren’t getting enough water! Headaches and thirst are both signs of dehydration.
- Consume vitamin D, it can improve your natural immune response to bacteria infection like tuberculosis and increase production of antimicrobial peptides. Get between 1000-2000 iu/day.
- Don’t consume alcohol and refine sugar. Both reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs. If you do only one thing to boost your immune system, eliminating sugar and alcohol will do the trick!! You will see noticeable results in your energy levels, weight distribution, immunity and your ability to think clearly when you break the cravings and stop eating refined sugar and drinking alcohol. Many nutritionists consider sugar a drug for its negative impact on the human body. Healthier sugars such as agave and stevia do exist, but avoid artificial sweeteners; they are even worse than sugar.
- Stock up on raw fruits and vegetables for their antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and enzymes. The nutritional content that you receive from raw fruits and veggies is unparalleled. Many vitamins & antioxidants, including C, will protect cells – including those of your immune system – from damage by toxins in the environment. Fill up on dark-coloured produce such as berries, kale and broccoli. They are higher in flavonoids, polyphenols and other healthy antioxidants.
- Avoid obesity. Excessive body fat can decrease your immune performance by reducing the ability of white blood cells to multiply and produce antibodies.
- Nurture & socialize yourself. Make sure you take time to yourself, spend some time with friends, family and indulge yourself in a massage or a hot bath. Our bodies respond to our emotions – if you’re feeling harassed and anxious, it can manifest in a sore throat or a cold. Pay attention to warning signs of sore throat or exhaustion so you can keep them from getting worse. Take a “mental health day” every few months to make sure your emotional needs are met. When you’re happy and stress free you’re far less likely to get sick.