While March brings the hope of no more snow and no more colds and flu, we were still a few Boot Campers down – some sick themselves, others patiently (or otherwise!), tending to kids home sick from school.
By Lee Sandford
While March brings the hope of no more snow and no more colds and flu, we were still a few Boot Campers down – some sick themselves, others patiently (or otherwise!), tending to kids home sick from school. These pesky winter bugs are still circulating and one way to avoid them getting hold of you is actually to head outside and get your heart rate up, even if temperatures don’t rise as quickly as some of us might be hoping.
I’ll never convince my mother of this, but I have long known it to be true and just to be safe, double-checked it for this article with some of my Boot Campers who are doctors.
You do not catch a cold from being cold!
Winter weather does indeed lead to increased cases of colds and flu, but not because it makes you cold! The reason is two-fold: 1) People spend more time indoors in close proximity to each other, and therefore germs are shared and spread more easily and quickly. 2) The flu virus has been shown to thrive better in cold, dry conditions typical of winter here, as opposed to the warm humidity of summer.
I have also always thought that when I feel a cold coming on, the best thing to do is go out and exercise in the fresh air, feeling that it clears my head and helps clear my airways. However, with a sample of only one, I thought this point warranted further research.
Can exercise protect you against catching a cold?
The answer is yes, people who exercise consistently and regularly have significantly stronger immune systems. One university study in 2012 showed that people who exercise most days of the week take 40 to 45 percent fewer sick days from work than sedentary control groups.
In addition, during and immediately after your exercise session, there is a temporary boost in the production of immune cells that fight bacteria and they circulate through the body more quickly.
This also helps explain a study by Iowa State University, which showed that people who exercised shortly after having a flu shot, months later exhibited nearly double the antibody response of the sedentary control group. It is thought that exercise can help vaccine response because it activates parts of the immune system.
Exercise promotes better sleep patterns, which are associated with a healthy immune system, as are reduced stress levels. Numerous studies have shown that people who exercise are less stressed.
Can fresh air help you fend off a cold?
The answer is yes, indirectly, fresh air is another weapon in the fight against getting sick! To go back to how colds spread in winter, and one of the causes being that people are predominantly indoors, common sense would tell us to get out more!
Sunshine is of course a great source of vitamin D, which is an immune system regulator. And for a bonus attack on your stress levels, and therefore a boost to your immune system, it is better to exercise outside. Studies have shown that taking your workout outdoors leads to lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than if you did the same workout indoors.
Endurance athletes beware
For the many marathoners and triathletes around town, you should be aware, if you are gearing up to a race or an endurance event, that high-intensity exercise lasting more than 90 minutes can cause a temporary decrease in the immune system. The hormones the body produces to increase speed and strength in such intensity and reduce the pain you feel, are adrenaline and cortisol. They also temporarily raise blood pressure and suppress the immune system, which can lead to increased susceptibility to infection in endurance athletes for up to 72 hours after their exercise session.
So, if you are feeling under the weather, now is not the time to “go long” in your marathon training or set your sights on a personal best on your cycle route. Keep moving by all means, but keep the intensity level at moderate.