With Autumn fading and Winter approaching, we’re now entering the season of coughs, colds, flu, sneezes and viral infections and this Winter, many people will be unlucky and will pick up a cold – or something worse. Or is it really down to luck?
Well, new research from Appalachian State University in North Carolina has identified that it isn’t down to luck at all, it’s down to your personal levels of fitness and their research proves it. Now I’m always espousing the fantastic health benefits of exercise but we’re now seeing an additional benefit, ie: illness prevention.
The American research focused on a sample of more than 1,000 healthy people who were tracked for a period of three months, monitoring any coughs, colds, sniffles and more severe symptoms and illnesses. And the findings were pretty impressive!
The researchers found that the most significant factor in avoiding colds etc was how much exercise that person participated in. Those people who were physically active for five or more days per week had an almost 50% lower risk of catching a cold! (Physically active was defined as exercising for a minimum of 20 minutes at an intensity sufficient to break a sweat). And there’s more! Of those physically active people who were still unfortunate to catch a cold, the severity of the symptoms was 41% lower in those people who had the highest fitness levels!
You see, when you exercise, you trigger a boost to your immune system cells which fight infections and circulate throughout your body and clearly this has a beneficial effect on your resistance to illness. Now whilst these changes last only for a few hours, the boost provides your body with a kick-start to help fight off infections like the common cold.
This research which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine attracted very positive comments from Steve Field, the chairman of the Royal College of Practitioners. Mr Field said, “this is yet more evidence for doing exercise, exercise makes us feel better and here’s more evidence that it’s good for us”.
So there you have it! Incontrovertible evidence that not only does correctly structured exercise make you feel good and make you fitter, it also boosts your immune system and helps prevent you from succumbing to common illnesses. Now the key phrase here is ‘correctly structured exercise’ because all too frequently, people don’t structure their exercise correctly, which leads to over-fatigue, injury, de-motivation and illness.
We often hear about elite athletes suffering from viruses – which is frequently down to over-training and a weakened immune system and so this week I’m looking at how you can participate in the right amount of exercise to both improve your fitness and get all those great immune system boosting benefits as well!
1. Go hard, go easy. I sometimes see people exercising who are impressively giving it their all and really putting maximum effort into their workout. That’s great and excellent commitment but I get bothered when I see the same person the following day doing exactly the same thing. There they are, flogging themselves around the same roads or busting a gut in the gym or at their exercise class.
They’re probably thinking that their strategy will fast-track their fitness but they couldn’t be more wrong. What they’re actually doing is over-training. By ‘red-lining’ it in every session, they’re damaging their body and because they’re not backing off in subsequent sessions, they’ll damage their immune systems and sooner or later they’ll get ill. And how do I know this to be true? Well because a long, long time ago, this was how I trained, mistakenly believing that unless I almost killed myself in every session, I was ‘wimping out’ or wasting my time. Eventually the penny dropped for me when by September of one year, I’d totted up nine or ten colds, chest infections and viral-type illnesses in as many months – perfectly illustrating my point.
So my maxim is ‘go hard, go easy’, ie: allow yourself sufficient recovery from a hard session for your body to rebuild. Now I’ve already covered the specific benefits of rest in my column a few weeks ago so I won’t repeat that information here but before you think that you don’t want to rest because you enjoy exercising on consecutive days – you don’t necessarily need to take a day off.
Easy days are good. Cross-training; where you participate in an alternative form of exercise is excellent. So a two mile jog the day after your 10K race is fine. Flogging yourself around the same 10K course isn’t! A Yoga or Pilates class the day after your weights workout is excellent, whereas back-to-back heavy metal isn’t!
2. Fun and variety. Now I realise that using the word ‘fun’ in connection with exercise may seem anathema to some people! However in my view, mixing up your exercise sessions and adding a dose of fun is imperative for your motivation and enjoyment and if you enjoy your workouts then psychologically you’re feeling good as well as physically and we now know that you’ll then enjoy an immune system boost.
So don’t be a slave to ‘the programme’, change that system and revitalise your sessions. As a real-life example, my team of Personal Trainers and I spend a great deal of time developing new exercises and spicing up our Clients’ sessions with new, fun and innovative training because like anything, if you’re enjoying something, you’ll get a whole lot more out of it.
Only the other day, I pitched up at the gym for one of my own weights workouts but after warming up I felt a little jaded and below par. Years ago I would have ‘ground it out’, doing myself more harm than good. This time, I changed my session from weights to flexibility – a much lower intensity yet no less beneficial workout and I felt great afterwards. There was no risk of over-training – hence my immune system was fully operational!
3. . . . and finally, To round off, I would like to send my sincere thanks to all the readers who have sent me their congratulations regarding my reaching the finals of the National Fitness Awards 2010 for Personal Trainer of the Year.
To be ranked as one of the top 5 Personal Trainers in the UK is a great honour and with the awards taking place on November 25th, I’ll keep everyone posted for my final result. Thanks everyone!
In the meantime, keep exercising and boosting your immune systems from all the body4life health & fitness Team – that’s me, Jane, Duncan, Dave, Alison and Tony (we don’t let those coughs and colds get anywhere near us!).
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