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Sweat It Out

Dodge cold and flu season with regular exercise


Tackle the dreaded cold and flu season by getting active—and staying active. With a few small changes that you can make today, you can decrease the chances of becoming a victim of a nasty virus this winter.

We’re well into the winter months with dark, cold, and dreary days ahead of us. What’s also right around the corner? The dreaded cold and flu season. What if there was a way to decrease the chances of becoming a victim of a nasty virus this season? Nothing’s guaranteed, but if you could decrease the chances of becoming prey to a cold or flu, wouldn’t you want to give it a try?


How often do your fit friends get sick?

Do you notice that your friends and family members who exercise on a regular basis don’t get sick as often as others? Keep in mind that getting sick depends on many factors, such as age, stress levels, nutrition, and amount of sleep. But the majority of people who are active on a regular basis are helping build their bodies’ immunity to fight the germs passed around during cold and flu season.

One recent study found that adults who performed a minimum of five days per week of aerobic exercise had a decreased rate of upper respiratory tract infections as compared to adults who exercised once a week or less.


Building up immunity

Aside from proper nutrition, washing your hands regularly, taking supplements when appropriate, and getting enough sleep, physical activity is a great way to boost the immune system’s defences against nasty viruses. Exercise is thought to help boost our immune system in at least two ways: by stimulating our immune cells and by increasing our sleep quality while lowering our stress.


Boost immune cell activity

A study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that with each bout of moderate exercise training, there is a surge in immune-boosting cells. What’s more, this surge lasts up to three hours after working out.


Decrease stress and improve sleep quality

Stress and lack of sleep (especially when combined) can be very damaging to the body. A study from the journal SLEEP reported that sleep deprivation leads to decreased effects on the immune system.

A great way to improve sleep quality and decrease stress levels is to take part in regular exercise. A study performed at Northwestern University in 2010 found that, among older adults with chronic insomnia, aerobic physical activity is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood, and quality of life.


Keep your fitness regimen well rounded

Now when these studies talk about exercise as an immune booster, what exactly are they referring to?


Aerobic exercise

Aim to perform aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling) for 45 minutes, four to five days per week. A study performed at the University of Washington found that performing 45 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic training for four to five days per week over the course of one year reduced the incidence of colds in postmenopausal, previously sedentary women.


Strength training

Strength training should also be included in a comprehensive exercise routine, which could be done with your own body weight or with equipment. Stretching, yoga, and sports are also great ways to ensure you have a well-rounded fitness routine— and you’ll be less likely to get bored!

Of course, always check with your health care practitioner before embarking on a new exercise routine.


Exercising while sick

Should you really "sweat it out" when you’re sick? Before you put your gear on and head to the gym, follow these tips.

  • Let your body be your guide. If you feel horrible, take a few days off and get back to your workout routine as you begin to feel better. It’s also wise to avoid working out in a public place when contagious, even if you do feel well enough.
  • If your symptoms are above the neck, exercise should be okay; however, if your symptoms are below the neck (such as chest congestion or upset stomach) or if you have fever, fatigue, or muscle aches, exercise should be avoided.
  • Always check with your health care practitioner if you’re not sure if it’s okay to exercise.

Avoid germs at the gym

  • Wash your hands immediately after a workout and make use of natural hand sanitizer.
  • Try laying a towel on a bench while performing exercises or across the handles on cardio equipment to provide an extra barrier between you and the equipment.
  • Just in case the person before you didn’t give the machine a wipe down, clean your equipment both before and after use.

Stuck indoors?

Here are three ways to work out indoors if you don’t go to the gym.

  • Keep fitness equipment at home, such as a yoga mat, free weights, medicine balls, skipping ropes, and/or resistance bands.
  • Make use of the staircase in your apartment building or home to get in a great cardio workout.
  • Search or YouTube and other websites for bodyweight cardio workouts that suit your fitness level.

You are what you eat

Shawna Barker, BSc, RHN, of Synergy Nutrition provides these tips to help boost the immune system.

Grow your gut garden

It is said that 80 percent of our immune system resides in our intestines. Support the diversity and balance of good gut bacteria by including fermented foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and miso.

Eat the rainbow

Eating a variety of fresh, colourful fruits and vegetables supplies our bodies, and our immune systems, with important antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Include garlic

Garlic is a natural antibacterial agent. Add it to soups, hummus, stir-fries, or hot tea with ginger, lemon, and cayenne.

Get enough zinc

Zinc plays an integral role in many aspects of immune system functioning. Fill up on pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, and cashews.



No Proof

No Proof

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD