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Summertime Sadness: Sick this Summer?

By Supriya Venigalla, MD

Sick days are the absolute pits. There are so many productive activities you could be doing in the time you spend feeling miserable in bed. Plus, it’s summer, colds can only happen when it’s cold, right? You think back to what could have caused this. You know you took your vitamins, had nutritious meals, and got enough sleep. It dawns on you, accompanied by a squirmy, guilty feeling in your belly, that you haven’t exactly been a regular at the gym. But wait, how is that even remotely connected to the misery you’re experiencing right now?

Studies done at Appalachian State University have found that individuals who walk with moderate intensity for 40 minutes a day have half as many sick days from colds and sore throats than those who didn’t exercise. After exercise, your body produces more antibodies than usual that fight bacteria and viruses. A few hours after your exercise, your body returns to normal. However, the more often you exercise, the longer these antibodies hang around in your system. And you want these with you, since they’re the only ones in life with your best interests at heart.

The brief rise in body temperature during and immediately after any physical activity prevents bacteria from growing and also slows down the release of stress-related hormones, which in turn decreases the chance of illness.

However, too much of a good thing isn’t ideal either. Too much exercise can have the opposite effect and reduce immunity. The keys are knowing (1) how much exercise is enough, (2) when exercise is appropriate and when it’s not, and (3) which types of exercise are appropriate for your particular situation.

If your lifestyle is sedentary, there’s no need to take up marathon running or train to be a world-class tennis player to make up for your lack of exercise.

A healthy, moderate program can consist of:

  • Bicycling with your children a few times a week
  • Taking daily 20 – 30 minute walks
  • Going to the gym every other day
  • Playing golf regularly

And if you’re sick and wondering if you can work out, here are some recommendations:

  • Exercise, but don’t overtrain, if you just have a head cold.
  • Don’t exercise if your cold or other illness is “systemic”—that is, involves other parts, systems, or organs of the body.
  • Engage in moderate exercise before getting a flu shot. The physical activity could improve your body’s response to the vaccine and enhance your immunity to the flu.

So now you know why you’re languishing on that bed despite your (mostly) healthy lifestyle. This should be enough inspiration to create a workout regimen that’s moderate, sensible, and one that you can track via Walk Georgia!