Exercise and the Common Cold
So I don’t know about everyone else, but I have found that since giving birth to my daughter I have had way more colds than usual! It must be the combination of less sleep and increased stress taking a toll on my immune system. The good thing is since I am nursing I pass those immunities onto our little one, so I’m the only one that has to suffer through these awful sicknesses! This is the second cold I have gotten, nothing crazy but still enough to make me feel crappy. It probably doesn’t help that we are going through a 4-month sleep regression so I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while. I find it kind of crazy because before all this I had a bulletproof immune system. Thanks to working in healthcare I haven’t even had a sniffle in 3 years, even made it through a whole pregnancy without getting sick! Today I felt like being a smarty pants and doing some research, so just a heads up…this post is packed full of it! I know this can be boring for some but I am a closet nerd and this does slightly excite me.
The big question is
Should I still exercise with a cold?!
Out of courtesy to others at the gym I probably would find somewhere else to workout for a few days, nobody likes the guy beside them sniffling up a storm, but contrary to popular belief, exercise (in moderation) is actually good for you and won’t make your sickness worse, and hey, it may even make it better! There has been lots of research on how exercise prevents sickness, but not very much on its effect on the body once you’re already sick. The general consensus seems to be that if you have a cold (runny nose, headache) and not the flu (vomiting, fever) it is safe to participate in moderate exercise (walk, light jog, etc.), although heavy exercise isn’t recommended (and I feel like that would be pretty tough anyways). By the way I look at it any sort of activity is better than sitting around the house feeling sorry for yourself! You can read more about that study here. A recent review of the literature shows that the relationship between exercise and preventing colds works on a J shaped curve (see below), this means that moderate exercise is the best for preventing illness and decreasing the stress response in your body, but high intensity exercise can actually have a negative effect (so maybe all that Crossfit lately has been working against me a little). If you would like to read more about this click here. Ultimately, working out 4-5 days a week at a moderate intensity level will help you to be the healthiest you can be!
As I sit here and contemplate if I should go to Crossfit tomorrow I came across a study by Rakel et. al (2013) that looked at the association between moderate exercise and mindfulness meditation and their effect on acute respiratory infection (common cold). They measured this based on how much money was spent on medications, doctor visits and missed days of work during the duration of the cold and flu season. They found that those who participated in mindfulness meditation vs those in the control group had the greatest cost benefit, and those who exercised also had a cost benefit, although lesser. This suggests that those participants missed less days of work and spent less money on medications and doctors visits, which implies fewer or less severe illnesses. Now this study is preliminary so there’s still work to be done on the subject but I think those results seem pretty promising! It is pretty much saying that even just thinking about being well can make you healthier? I’ll take it!
If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness meditation it is incredibility hard to describe, everyone who studies this sees it a little different based on their own background and beliefs. I did a big research paper in school on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), so this is why this study popped out at me as interesting. Basically mindfulness is a state of mind and a way of being. If you consciously make yourself more aware of how you feel and use this concept to guide your meditations it can ultimately lead to stress reduction, which can lead to less chance of getting sick! To explain this concept here is something I would say to a client to guide them through a mindfulness session for pain reduction. (I’m totally just making this up on the fly so bear with me here..)
I will ask you to close your eyes, breathe deeply, inhale and exhale, listen to your heartbeat, feel the blood pulsing through your veins, feel the slight tickle of hair on the back of your neck and warm sun on your face. Now focus on that nagging pain in your lower back. Visualize that pain dissipating, dissolving away, your muscles getting softer, your shoulders getting heavier, your breaths getting deeper, feeling more and more relaxed with each exhale, feel the pain leaving your body with each breath… Get the idea??
Okay, after totally veering off topic I think I came to my conclusion. Right now I am going to lie in bed and think about feeling better (mindfulness meditation)! Tomorrow will be day 5 of this annoying cold, so I will go on a nice walk (moderate exercise) as I have been doing all weekend and hopefully be back to normal by Tuesday! Power of positive thinking right? The most important thing while your sick…KEEP UP THOSE FLUIDS. Since I am nursing I am doing my best to drink tons of water to avoid dehydration, which drastically affects my milk supply (I learned from experience). Here’s hoping that I don’t get sick again this winter! One last thing, don’t forget that most cold medications aren’t recommended if your breastfeeding, so unfortunately like me you just have to tough it out. Bah.
As always, please consult your doctor before partaking in any physical activity. Each person is different and my recommendations are solely my own opinion and not medical advice.
Nieman DC. Exercise, upper respiratory tract infection, and the immune system. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994 Feb;26(2):128-39. Review.
Rakel, D., Mundt, M., Ewers, T., Fortney, L., Zgierska, A., Gassman, M., & Barrett, B. (2013). Value associated with mindfulness meditation and moderate exercise intervention in acute respiratory infection: The MEPARI Study. Family Practice, 30(4), 390–397. doi:10.1093/fampra/cmt008
Weidner TG1, Cranston T, Schurr T, Kaminsky LA. “The effect of exercise training on the severity and duration of a viral upper respiratory illness” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Nov;30(11):1578-83.