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Exercise: A Simple Way to Slash Your Risk of Colds by 50%

woman with coldPeople who exercise regularly are less likely to get a cold. A study of 1,000 people found that regular activity cut the odds of catching a cold in half. If someone who exercised regularly did catch a cold, the symptoms were less severe.

This could be because exercise helps to bolster your immune system.

BBC News reports:

"... [R]esearchers asked the healthy volunteers to keep a record of any coughs and sniffles they experienced over a three-month period during the autumn and winter ...

People who were physically active on five or more days of the week were unwell with a cold for about five days of the three-month period, compared to nine days for those who did little or no exercise."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The average American adult suffers from two to four colds a year, which adds up to approximately 1 billion colds per year in the United States. The cold virus is the leading infectious disease in the U.S., leading to more missed school days and work time -- and more doctor visits -- than virtually any other illness.

So learning a simple way to cut back on your risk of catching a cold by 50 percent is nothing to sneeze at …

Fortunately, a new study has added more support to previous research that shows you can drastically reduce your risk of getting a cold just by adding regular exercise to your life. What's more, should you get a cold, if you've been exercising the infection will likely be less severe and the symptoms much more tolerable.

How Exercise Wards Off Colds

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, and studies have clearly shown this.

In one such study, women who exercised regularly were found to have half the risk of colds as 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.

Likewise, in the latest study staying active cut the risk of having a cold by 50 percent, and cut the severity of symptoms by 31 percent among those who did catch a cold. The researchers noted that each round of exercise may lead to a boost in circulating immune system cells that could help ward off a cold virus.

The rise was temporary, however, suggesting that the more you exercise, the better the cold-protective benefits will be.

It's a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body.

The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and diseases trying to attack your body.

Your immune system is your first line of defense against everything from minor illnesses like a cold or the flu right up through devastating, life-threatening diseases like cancer. It's not possible to be optimally healthy if your immune system is weak or compromised, and exercise plays a crucial role in making sure this is not the case.

What Type of Exercise Program is Best?

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.

Essentially, you need to have a varied routine like the Peak Fitness program I now highly recommend. The Peak Fitness program includes:

  • Sprint 8 exercises
  • Conventional aerobics
  • Strength training
  • Core exercises
  • Stretching

You're likely familiar with all of these except for Sprint 8 exercises, upon which the framework of Peak Fitness was built. I began incorporating the Sprint 8 exercises earlier this year, and the results speak for themselves. These exercises can be done in a fraction of the time you'd normally spend walking or running.

Still, despite the fact that you will spend less time exercising, Sprint 8 exercises can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness, your immune system, your fat-burning capabilities, and, perhaps best of all, will boost your body's natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), often referred to as the "fitness hormone."

To put it simply, Sprint 8 exercises raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then you recover for 90 seconds.

You would repeat this cycle for a total of eight repetitions. These cycles are preceded by a three-minute warm-up and two-minute cool-down so the total time investment is about 20 minutes.

For a more complete, in-depth explanation of my Peak Fitness regimen, please review this recent article on Peak Fitness.

Should You Exercise While You Have a Cold?

If you do come down with a cold, many people wonder if it's better to rest up during your recovery or try to continue with an exercise program.

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.

So 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, including cold viruses. However you need to be very careful and listen to your body -- do 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.

Also, if you feel overly tried or too sick to exercise, a nap may be a better choice for your recovery than a workout.

What Else Can Help You Prevent Colds?

Colds are triggered by viruses but 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:

  1. Vitamin D deficiency
  2. Eating too much sugar and too many grains
  3. Not getting enough rest or sleep
  4. Using inadequate strategies to address emotional stressors in your life
  5. Any combination of the above

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 review my free vitamin D lecture to find out how to get your levels optimized.

MAJOR Caution with Exercise

Please understand that exercise really can only be used to PREVENT colds. If you have a cold now it is too late to use exercise to treat it.

In fact, if you are exercising regularly and come down with a cold you need to immediately decrease your exercise frequency and intensity.

Exercise is a stress, a good one, and that is one of the reasons why it works so well, but when you are sick it is time to reduce the stress and cut back to put more of your energy into healing. If you have been exercising you can do this and typically will bounce right back.

If you haven't been exercising you can't cut back from zero so you lose a major tool in treating colds.

Moral of the story is to make sure you are exercising now!!

Additional Tips

And remember, using antibiotics to treat a viral infection is an exercise in futility. 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.)

So taking antibiotics if you have a cold will not help you recover any faster and may contribute to the growing trend of antibiotic-resistant diseases. You're far better off taking steps to nourish and support your immune system, as this will be your ticket to staying cold- (and flu-) free this year and for years to come.

Finally, if you're looking for quick recovery trick, try hydrogen peroxide.

Many patients at my Natural Health Center have had remarkable results in curing colds and flu within 12 to 14 hours when administering a few drops of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) into each ear. You will hear some bubbling, which is completely normal, and possibly feel a slight tingling or stinging sensation.

Wait until the bubbling and tingling subside (usually 5 to 10 minutes), then drain onto a tissue and repeat with the other ear. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide in 3 percent solution is available at any drug store for a couple of dollars or less. It is simply amazing how many people respond to this simple, inexpensive treatment.