Should you consider avoiding the gym if you’re unwell, or does a daily workout session actually help your body cope better?
Here are the facts – so you can train with confidence.
With cold and flu season still firmly upon us (does it ever leave?), you may be grasping at anything that promises to safeguard you from sniffles and sick days. From a healthy diet and plenty of kip to a stress-free existence and vitamin C aplenty, there’s an abundance of different techniques to up your defences. But, beyond stockpiling oranges and hoping for the best, adopting a foolproof exercise plan could be the difference between reaching for the kettlebells or the Kleenex.
According to researchers from the Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina, those who did five or more days of exercise a week experienced 43% fewer days with URTI (upper respiratory tract illness) symptoms than those in the lowest 25% of fitness levels (who did one day or less of exercise). And when the former did get a cold their symptoms were 32% less severe. Boom!
But, how does an activity that, effectively, wears us out, give us a much-needed immunity boost?
“Exercise increases the production of new neurons in the hippocampus (the memory part of the brain) and increases the production of glial cells (the most abundant cell type in the central nervous system), which are the body’s support network,” says Dr Anna Hemming from The Cranley. “These cells then help to protect and support the function of the neurons. By training, we increase our respiratory rate and depth of breathing, which allows more oxygen to be absorbed into the blood, more carbon dioxide to be removed and to help flush any bacteria that causes colds and flus out of the lungs and airways. It also enables better circulation, causing a change in antibodies and white blood cells (the body’s immune system).”
Still with us? While we know that hitting the gym can give us toned limbs and a strong physique (more on that later), it can also improve our immune system through more abstract channels. “By incorporating exercise into our daily or weekly routines, it releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones that improve our sleep quality and reduce stress levels – two known components that can compromise the immune system,” Dr Larisa Corda explains.