Exercise is the Medicine

Chances are if you work, go to school or are around kids there’s always someone sniffling, sneezing or coughing.  Of course, all you’re trying to do is avoid getting the cold, flu or stomach virus your self.  But is hand sanitizing, incessant hand washing and kicking open doors like an ER doctor really the only way to avoid the sniffles?

Well other than being an older age, married male – interestingly the other demographic factors that predict less susceptibility to upper respiratory illness – near daily physical activity significantly lessens the chance of those nagging cold symptoms.  Active Care founder and physical therapist Lisa Giannone has coined the phrase ‘Exercise is the best medicine’; who knew that it applied to upper respiratory illness as well as orthopedic health.

It would be an understatement to say exercise is an important piece of health and well-being.  After all, exercise has been definitively linked to cardiovascular health, disease risk and mental health.  So we know that exercise makes us live longer and feel better, but does it help avoid the non-life threatening illnesses, like the good old common cold?  After all, sickness absence has a major affect on economics and society and preventing long-term absences is in the best interest of every business and organization.

It’s well known that many adults in the United States (and world) don’t meet the physical activity requirements that experts say are needed to realize the health, fitness and well being benefits associated with physical activity.  Unfortunately for those that don’t, a clear relationship exists between the amount of physical inactivity and all cause mortality.

Well add increased cold immunity to the list of exercise benefits as researchers from Appalachian State University reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that those that exercised 5 times a week for 20 minutes or more suffered through 40 percent less sick days than those that exercised 1 day or less per week.  What’s more the cold symptoms that the exercisers did experience were of lower severity and didn’t last as long.

The experts are still debating the reasons behind this reduced risk but there are many good guesses.  Among the most likely is a bout of aerobic exercise causes a short-term increase in the recirculation of cells tasked for immune system defense. Additionally, stress hormones, which are potential suppressors of immunity, are not elevated during moderate aerobic exercise.  Although the immune system returns to pre-exercise levels within a few hours after exercise, each sweaty workout session may improve the immunity against the viruses and bacteria that cause illness.

Upper respiratory infections are caused by a variety of different pathogens, making full coverage preventative vaccines a near impossibility.  For those that want to make it through the long months of winter without a cough, runny nose or sore throat, exercise may be the best vaccine.