Exciting news: This month is “Exercise is Medicine Month.” The phrase “Exercise is Medicine” usual suggests the exercise can be used to treat diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Exercise can also support mental health and many other facets of wellness. But can exercise be “medicine” for everyday infections like the common cold?
Common sense seems to suggest that an illness such as a cold is best treated with rest. On one level, this makes perfect sense; exercise is a physiological stressor that a body already combating illness is unlikely to be able to cope with. Indeed, intense exercise is known to have an immunosuppressive effect for 1-3 days following the activity. Intense exercise also increases the volume of stress hormones in the body. These hormones give you the boost to make it through a dangerous or difficult situation but they also take a toll on the body’s ability to stay healthy, a phenomenon commonly experienced by individuals who fall ill immediately after cramming to meet a stressful deadline. But less intense exercise is a bit different. Regular, moderate physical activity can yield a positive boost in immune system activity while maintaining a low level of circulating stress hormone. Furthermore, the increase in circulation that occurs with exercise can allow immune system cells to function better.
All this adds up to mean that regular exercise of light to moderate intensity can reduce the likelihood that you will get sick in the first place. Intense exercise is important for many individuals with goals ranging from athletic performance to weight loss but it is useful to keep the complementary benefits of moderate exercise in mind. If you are incorporating intense exercise into your regular routine, make sure you also include some moderate activity as well. To maximize performance, body composition and health results, a typical schedule should include no more than 2-3 days of intense activity coupled with 4+ days of light to moderate activity.
It is clear that moderate exercise can support your immune system in the long run, but what about when you are in the middle of an illness? As a general guideline, if you have flu symptoms like nausea, aches and fatigue, wait to resume moderate activity until your symptoms clear up. But if your symptoms are relegated to a cough, runny nose or scratchy throat, the immune-supportive effect of light-moderate exercise may actually assist in your recovery. It is amazing how many aspects of your health can be improved by exercise, all with very low risk of any negative side-effects. Maybe the month should be renamed “Exercise is the Best Medicine Month”.
Please contact Hunter Spencer if you have any questions or would like to set up a fresh exercise routine.