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Fight the Cold and Flu Season with Exercise

WASHINGTON - MAY 5:  U.S. President George W. ...

Twenty to thirty minutes of mild to moderate exercise such as walking is all you need to help boost your immunity during this cold and flu season.

Scientific studies show that people who exercise regularly report fewer colds than their sedentary peers and near-daily physical activity reduces the number of days of sickness per year.

Moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response including a temporary boost in the antibody response, the natural killer (T-cell) response, and the production of macrophages– the cells that attack bacteria. During exercise immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. After exercise ends the immune system generally returns to normal within a few hours, but consistent, regular exercise seems to make these changes a bit more long-lasting.  When moderate exercise is repeated on a near-daily basis, there is a cumulative effect that leads to a long-term immune response.

Too much of a good thing can be actually detrimental to the immune system. More than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise can make athletes susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session.  Prolonged intense exercise seems to cause a temporary decrease in immune system function. The body produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline which can temporarily lower immunity. This is important information for those who compete in longer events such as marathons or triathlons.

If you are already ill, you should be careful about exercising too intensely. Your immune system is already taxed by fighting your infection, and additional stress could hinder your recovery. In general, if you have mild cold symptoms and no fever, light or moderate exercise may help you feel a bit better and actually boost your immune system. Intense exercise will only make things worse and likely extend your illness.

Regular moderate exercise is a positive component to a healthy lifestyle. During these winter months, it usually takes more creativity and initiative to get moving. Consider taking 20 to 30 minute daily walks, trying out a new fitness class, or fun activities with your family such as snowshoeing or sledding.

Don’t forget the other factors that influence overall well-being: keeping stress to a minimum, eating a well-balanced diet with high-quality nutrient dense foods, drinking plenty of water, getting sufficient rest, and spending time with friends and loved ones.

Kristine Battey is a licensed physical therapist, a certified athletic trainer, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (personal trainer) and a holistic lifestyle coach, and a member of The Sandpoint Wellness Council.  She owns Divine Health & Fitness,, and can be reached at (208) 946-7072.

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