Run from that cold!

Another reason to exercise: You’ll keep from catching cold.

You’ve likely heard that from your friendly, local robo-athlete, the guy or gal who works out with machine-like efficiency pert near every day. Well, he/she now has a study out of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State’s North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis — quick breath so we can finish this sentence — to back him/her up.

ASU researchers followed 1,002 men and women ages 18-85 over a 12-week period in the autumn of 2008, keeping tabs on the number of upper respiratory tract infections they suffered. Their findings:

  • Frequency of colds among people who exercised five days or more every week was about 46 percent less than the folks who maybe — maybe — exercised once a week.
  • Of the physically active folks who did catch cold, the duration of their colds was about 34 percent less than the sluggos.
  • The severity of colds was less severe among the fit.

The study took into account the participants’ lifestyle, diet, stress levels, how much they claimed to exercise and a self-assessment of their fitness. One thing it didn’t cover: How much exposure to germs they had at work and at home (e.g., from kids). Curiously, the study also found that being older, being male and being married also reduced your chances of catching cold.

In a typical year, the report says the average American adult can expect to catch two to four colds, they average kid six to 10. The study estimates that colds cost the U.S. economy about $40 billion annually, in direct and indirect costs.
Researchers believe that exercise activates the immune system. The more active your immune system, the more your attack cells circulate through your body hunting down viruses.

The American College of Sports Medicine agrees with that assessment — to a point. Working out 30 to 60 minutes a day most days of the week reduces the number of sick days a person claims by “at least 40 percent,” says ACSM. Too much intense exercise, however, can weaken your immune system, tuckering out those attack cells and letting viruses roam about your body unchecked.

In addition, the ACSM offers this advice:

  • If you do have a cold, it’s OK to exercise moderately if the symptoms are confined to your head. If it’s seeped into your respiratory system, you have a fever, your glands are swollen or you’re achy, bench yourself.
  • If your symptoms become too much and you must sit on the sidelines, don’t rush your return into the game. Rather, ease back in.

And sweating out an illness? It’s a myth and doesn’t work.

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For more on the Appalachian State study, go here.

To check out the American College of Sports Medicine’s Exercise and the Common Cold Fact Sheet, go here.

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