Cold and Flu Season: How Exercise Keeps You From Getting Sick

Did you know that the average American gets sick 2-4 times per year? We tend to stay sick for 7-10 days each time, or a month of your year feeling miserable, achy and tired. The good news is that working out 3 days per week is one of the most powerful tools for prevention and speedy recovery. The even better news is that the time you invest in your own fitness (156 hours) is much less than what you’d spend being sick (960 hours for 40 days).

How it works

There are several theories: (a) the full, deep breathing helps to flush out your lungs so that pathogens don’t get too much time to set up camp and infect you. (b) Reasonable exercise helps to balance stress hormones such as cortisol. When cortisol is too high for too long, it will suppress immune function. (c) Exercise increases the proportion of something called your regulatory T-cells. T-cells are a kind of white blood cell that fights infection, and this shift in kind makes your immune system better at keeping you well.

What not to do

In fitness right now the fad is “harder and longer” is better – pushing until you collapse, or can’t keep going. While hard work is important, there is too much of a good thing. Excessively intense or long workouts increase your risk of injury and suppress your immune system because they stimulate excessive cortisol production. Keep your workouts to under an hour, and leave something in the tank.

Working out when sick

If your symptoms are above the neck, then, yes, you can workout. The workout will probably boost your immune function and suppress microbial growth. Remember to listen to your body and keep your intensity relative to the energy you have today. Don’t forget to wash your hands however! However, if you have below the neck symptoms – diarrhea, vomiting, fever, etc., then skip the workout.

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