And if you do, should you push yourself as hard as ever or take it easy? Will exercise have no effect, or make you feel better or worse?
Two little-known studies that were published a decade ago in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed results so much in favor of exercise that the researchers themselves were surprised.
The investigators found no difference in symptoms between those who exercised and those who rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.
Now, Dr. Leonard Kaminsky, an exercise physiologist at Ball State University, and others at Ball State encourage people to exercise when they have colds, at least if they have the type producing symptoms like runny noses and sneezing.
He is more cautious about other types of colds that produce fevers or symptoms below the neck such as chest congestion. Exercising with a head cold is not an issue for athletes, Dr. Kaminsky said, because most of them want to train no matter what. “If anything they tend to push too much,” he said.
Colds are a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from work and school. Americans suffer from approximately 1 billion colds per year, or about two to four colds per year for all adults.
Before I address the article, it should be obvious to all that the majority of colds occur in the winter, and that should be a giant clue as to one of their primary causes -- lack of sunshine, and hence decreased levels of vitamin D.
So if you have a cold there is a strong chance that your vitamin D levels are too low and I would STRONGLY advise you to get your vitamin D levels checked at Lab Corp in the U.S. Don't be surprised if your vitamin D level is sub-therapeutic.
It would also be wise to review my free vitamin D lecture if you haven’t done so already.
However, if you do come down with a cold or flu, you might be in the habit of skipping your exercise routine.
Two long-forgotten studies from the late 1990s indicate that not only is it safe to exercise when you have an upper respiratory tract infection, but it could actually make you feel better – even if it doesn’t speed up your recovery.
Other studies have clearly shown that regular exercise will help prevent catching colds in the first place.
In one such study, women who exercised regularly were found to have half the risk of colds of those who didn't work out. And the ability of moderate exercise to ward off colds seemed to grow the longer it was used. The enhanced immunity was strongest in the final quarter of the year-long exercise program, suggesting that it is important to stick with exercise long term to get the full effects.
Personally, I believe that if you have enough energy to tolerate it, increasing your body temperature by sweating from exercise will help to kill many viruses. However you need to be very careful and listen to your body, and not do your full, normal exercise routine, as that could clearly stress your immune system even more and prolong your illness if you overdo it.
Optimal Health is Dependent on Physical Exercise
A regular exercise program can do amazing things for your health, like beating Alzheimer's and diabetes, and boosting your immune system. If you are exercising regularly, just as if your vitamin D levels are optimized, the likelihood of your acquiring an upper respiratory infection decreases quite dramatically.
Another benefit of exercise is its ability to stabilize your insulin levels, which will have a cascading positive effect throughout your body.
The wide range of positive effects that exercise can have on both your body, and your mind include, but are not limited to:
- Weight control
- Better sleep
- Less pain
- Improved immune system function
- Less chronic disease
- Improved mental function
- Better mood
Avoid Colds by Understanding What Causes Them
It is important to understand the causes of colds if you want to avoid them. Most people believe that colds are caused by bacteria, but this, of course, is not correct.
Colds are triggered by viruses, and using antibiotics to treat a viral infection is an exercise in futility as it will never work. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and have entirely different structures that make them impervious to antibiotics. (Occasionally antibiotics are required if there is a secondary bacterial sinus infection or bronchitis/pneumonia, but this is the rare exception.)
However, it is important to recognize that although the virus actually triggers the cold symptoms, it is in no way, shape or form the real cause of the cold.
Believing that a virus "causes" a cold is a very dangerous perspective to take, for once you allow external forces to "control" your health, you lose the ability to improve it.
So what is the real cause of colds?
My simple and short answer has always been that it’s due to an impaired immune system. That’s still true. However, new research has discovered that “catching” cold- and flu viruses may in fact be, more specifically, a symptom of an underlying vitamin D deficiency. This will not only impair your immune system, but also has a staggering array of other health implications.
So, although there are many ways you might end up with a weakened immune system, the more common contributing factors are:
- Vitamin D deficiency as previously mentioned
- Eating too much sugar and too many grains
- Not getting enough rest or sleep
- Using inadequate strategies to address emotional stressors in your life
- Any combination of the above
Since exercise has repeatedly been proven to benefit your immune system over the long haul, it's crucial to treat exercise like a drug that must be properly prescribed, monitored and maintained for you to enjoy the most benefits.
If you want to get to work but don't know where to begin, consider my beginner's page that includes a free table you can use to track your progress.