Exercise: Jump-start your immune system!

Let’s be honest the last thing you feel like doing when you have a cold is exercising, but unless you have a serious condition like bronchitis or pneumonia, then getting a move on is the best remedy! Don’t let the avoidance of the dreaded “E” word keep you from experiencing optimal health.

Exercise: cold and flu prevention

Exercise as we all know has many benefits, but the motivating factor for most is the one which affects the outward appearance – weight loss. Conversely, exercise can also affect the inside of the body, specifically the immune system. Exercise causes the white blood cells that fight infections in the body to move quicker, effectively defending against bacteria and viruses.

Need a stress-buster? Try exercise! Exercise reduces stress which in turn, increases your immunity and resistance to disease.  However strenuous exercise without recovery can actually stress your immune system and increase the risk of respiratory infections.  While this isn’t a problem for most of us, if you are following an intense exercise program while you prepare for a triathlon or marathon, make sure you give yourself time to recover.

David Nieman, director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab in Kannapolis, N.C. has compiled several randomized controlled studies and the findings demonstrate that people who walk briskly for 45 minutes, five days a week over 12 to 15 weeks had fewer and less severe upper respiratory tract infections, such as colds and flu. Exercise has the ability to cause immune cells to circulate more freely in the blood, neutralizing pathogens.

In another study, 65-year-old women who exercised had the same number of T-cells, a type of immune cell, as 30 year olds.  Exercise also increases your natural killer cells (cells that can help prevent certain cancers and other immune attacks like cold viruses) by 50-300%!

A cold:  Do you exercise or stay home?

Having a cold doesn’t warrant a free pass on exercise. With over 200 different viruses that trigger cold symptoms and the average person having 2-3 colds per year is it any wonder we use the term “the common cold?” Research shows that exercising with a cold, contrary to popular opinion, does not worsen symptoms and or cause the symptoms to last longer; in fact it doesn’t even seem to affect the ability to exercise.

Exercise can open your nasal passages and relieve symptoms, at least temporarily. Hence, many people report that they actually feel better after a workout.  Don’t let a cold become another excuse to skip exercise.

When do I stay home and rest?

If you have a fever of 101 or higher, stay home.  When you have a fever and exercise you will raise your temperature and feel worse.  Also if you have symptoms below the neck such as a hacking cough, wheezing, chest congestion or stomach distress, strenuous exercise may make them worse.

When do I call the doctor?

If you are having any of the following symptoms when you exercise with a cold, it’s important to check in with your doctor:


  • Increased coughing and wheezing
  • Increased chest congestion and tightness

Get emergency care if you have the following:

  • Excessive shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Dizziness or light-headed ness that persists after you stop exercising
  • Difficulty with balance

Dr. Rx – aim for at least 30 minutes a day to ward off the common cold and flu. Start exercising today for a healthier tomorrow.



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