Daily Exercise Helps Keep the Sniffles Away

Regular exercise can improve your mood, help you lose weight, and add years to your life. Still need another reason to hit the gym? A new study suggests that working out regularly helps ward off colds and flu.

In the study, researchers followed a group of about 1,000 adults of all ages for 12 weeks during the winter and fall of 2008. During that time, people who logged at least 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise—such as jogging, biking, or swimming—on five or more days per week were sick with cold or flu symptoms for just five days, on average, compared to about 8.5 days among people who exercised one day per week or less.

What’s more, regular exercisers tended to have milder symptoms when they were ill. Compared to the people who barely exercised, those who worked out frequently rated their symptoms about 40% less severe overall, according to the study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. (Symptom severity was gauged with a standard questionnaire.)

Exercise is thought to boost the circulation of the virus-fighting white blood cells known as natural killer cells—the “Marine Corps and Army of the immune system,” says the lead author of the study, David Nieman, a professor of health, leisure, and exercise science at Appalachian State University, in Boone, N.C. “Exercise gets these cells out…to deal with the enemy.”

The increased immune activity brought on by exercise only lasts for about three hours, but the cumulative effect seems to keep disciplined exercisers healthier than most. “As the days add up, it adds up to improved protection [from] the viruses that can make you sick,” Nieman says.

Endorphins may also play a role, says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. These feel-good neurotransmitters—the source of the so-called runner’s high—have “positive effects on the immune system, so it’s not surprising there’s a spike in immune cells,” says Dr. Horovitz, who was not involved in the study.

It’s also possible that people who exercise frequently tend to lead healthy lifestyles in general, and are therefore less likely than couch potatoes to get sick.

Nieman and his colleagues measured a host of factors besides exercise that could potentially affect a person’s susceptibility to cold or flu, including age, gender, diet, stress levels, marital status, smoking, and educational attainment. Of all of these, physical activity was most closely linked to the number of days a person spent sick, although some characteristics, such as being married and eating a lot of fruit, seemed to help protect against colds and flu as well.

“You can’t do much about your age, and you can’t do much about your gender. Here’s something you can really do,” Nieman says. “Exercise is the most powerful weapon that an individual has in their hand to reduce illness days.”

By Amanda Gardner, Health.com November 2010


To get a flu shot…or not

Your co-worker in the cube next to you has been hacking up a lung all week…it is that time of the year…flu season has begun.  In the U.S., the flu season is usually from fall through early spring.  

According to the Center for Disease Control

  • 5 to 20 percent of the population get the flu
  • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications
  • Deaths from flu-related causes range from 3,300 to 48,600 (average 23,600)

Around this time of year, the flu shot commercials start, your office may offer shots for employees or your doctor suggests you get one.  Do you?  Have you in the past?  Did you get it and felt sick after so you never got it again? The Center for Disease Control and the medical profession believe that a seasonal flu shot is the best way to protect you from the flu. 

Back when I worked for a healthcare company, I did receive the shot every year.  From personal experience, I never got sick after and despite interacting with the community every day, I didn’t get sick often.  However, this year I am undecided on whether I will get the shot.  I still interact with the community everyday, and have already gotten sick 3 times, but still I hesitate.  Why?  Maybe because the thought of inflecting involuntary pain doesn’t sound fun, or sadly, because it isn’t free this year?  In years past, I just got it, didn’t think twice and really didn’t read the waiver I had to sign that explained what the shot was.  This year I am doing my research.

What is the “flu shot”?  It contains three seasonal influenza viruses that are grown in eggs. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses. It is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.  According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is 70-90% effective in preventing the flu in those 65 years and younger.  Since it is an inactive virus being injected, you can’t get sick from the actual shot.  It is argued in research that those that get sick usually had been exposed to the flu prior to the shot.

In the end, it is your decision whether to get a shot or not.   The best way to decide, educate yourself.  Read here for more info on the flu shot.

Where you can get a flu shot in your neighborhood.

Healthy Flying

According to a  study, about 1 in 5 people will come down with a cold within a week of flying.   It’s unclear what causes this increased susceptibility, because at this time there is no link between the recirculated air in airplane cabins and colds.  Then why might we get sick after flying?  There is less oxygen available in the air, and the air is very dry.  The mixture of this two conditions can make you sick.

Tips to Stay Healthy on a Flight

  • Watch what you eat.  If you are lucky enough to get a meal during your flight, think smart about what you consume.  Many airliners now serve lighter meals,  but they may still have high amounts of sodium, fat and calories.   Also, avoid foods that give you gas both during and before your flight.  In the air, your bodily gasses expand (think pain and bloating).
  • Increase your immunity.  Infortunately, airplanes do have  germs in the air. Most airlines now have in-plane filters that can trap germs, but there is still a chance you can get sick.   Prior to your flight,  boost up your immunity by getting lots of  sleep, exercising, eating right and keeping stress levels low.
  • Bring hand sanitizer/wash your hands.  Better to be safe than sorry.  Clean your tray before and after to eat and wipe down the seat belt and other items around your seat.
  • Drink water.  Drink lots of water before, during and after your flight to avoid dehydration.  Staying hydrated also helps curb jet lag.  Caffine and alcohol dehydrate the body more, so avoid these beverages.
  • Bring lotion and chap stick.  Since the air is dry your skin and lips will lose moisture. 
  • Wear glasses.  If you wear contacts and/or have dry eyes, wear your glasses instead of your contacts during the flight.  The dry air can dry out your eyes.
  • Chew gum, and yawn.  If you are prone to having pressure in your ears (or have a cold, or sinus issues) gum and yawning may help to relive the built up pressure.
  • Keep your blood moving.  Being in a sedentary position for a prolonged period of time can do harm to your body by possibly causing blood clots, swelling and muscle cramps.  Get up and walk around every few hours (if allowed), stretch while seated or when standing, and elevate your feet if possible.  If you have swelling in your legs or feet for 24 hours after your flight-see a doctor immediately.
  • If you are sick, consider postponing flying.  Those with certain medical conditions or injuries should not fly until they are cleared by their doctor.  But if you have a severe cold, stomach flu, etc, consider staying put.  Not only will it help you get better faster, you won’t spread your illness to other passengers.

Have to grab food on the run?  Think smart about your choices and plan ahead. 

Click here to see food and beverage choices at O’Hare  & Midway airports.


Sources; USA Today, ABC News, Forbes, MSN