Illness Prevention: Can Exercise Help Ward Off Cold & Flu Symptoms? by 30Seconds Health

Family Health Fitness
a month ago
Illness Prevention: Can Exercise Help Ward Off Cold & Flu Symptoms?

As cold and flu season approaches, so does the season of illness prevention. From getting a flu shot to adding a little extra vitamin C to your diet, prevention often becomes a focus for those concerned with getting sick, missing work and/or school and optimizing the joy of their upcoming holiday season. But can exercise boost your immune system?

According to Dr. Marc Gregory Guillen, owner of Free Body Physical Therapy & Wellness, the answer is broader than the question itself. "In general, healthy living is the true key to building and maintaining a strong immune system, and regular exercise is definitely an important component of this."

Some studies have shown that exercise on its own can play a role in reducing the length and intensity of colds and flu, says Dr. Guillen. “But, you can’t discount the long-lasting, immune-boosting benefits of other habits like eating right, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep and reducing stress.”

Research supporting exercise as an immune booster often points to many of the benefits inherent in regular fitness routines as factors that also help ward off illness: 

At the same time, some studies have concluded that regular, mild-intensity exercise can help reduce illness, while prolonged, high-intensity exercise can have the opposite effect by making one more susceptible to catching a bug.

“I tell people that if they feel they may be catching something – a cold, a flu or whatever may be going around – they should pull back on the length and intensity of their exercise routine just to be on the safe side,” Dr. Guillen says. “Keep getting your exercise, but also take greater care to make sure you’re staying hydrated, eating well and giving your body time to recover.”

If you do get sick? According to advice from the Mayo Clinic, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t continue to exercise. They offer the following two rules of thumb:

  • The Neck Rule: If you catch a cold and find that all the symptoms are concentrated above the neck (nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and/or a minor sore throat), it’s typically OK to exercise. Simply reduce your intensity. Instead of going for a jog, for instance, opt to go for a walk. In contrast, if you find that you’re experiencing symptoms below the neck – things like a congested chest, a hacking cough or an upset stomach – it’s best to not exercise at all.
  • The Fever Rule: If you have a fever or are experiencing muscle aches and fatigue throughout your body, take a break from exercising. Instead, get some rest, stay hydrated and, if things don’t improve over a couple of days, visit your doctor.

“It’s always your best bet to listen to your body,” Dr. Guillen says. “Just don’t overdo it. Pushing your body too hard when it’s fighting an illness can do you more harm than good.”

The information on 30Seconds.com is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information provided through this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider.

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Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
This is really helpful info. The "neck rule" is such an insightful way to know whether or not to exercise when sick. Thanks for the tips!
Meredith Schneider
Love this! Hopefully, knock on wood I won’t need to test this tip out. But if I do it’s extremely helpful.

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