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Ward Off The Common Cold With Exercise

Posted by Dr. Barry Sears

Nov 8, 2010 12:59:51 PM
Dr. Sears' Blog: Ward Off The Common Cold With Exercise


There is nothing like fall in New England -- the crisp air on your face, the changes in foliage and all the fun activities like apple and pumpkin picking.  Even though the calendar says the season lasts three months, the end of daylight savings in my mind signals the beginning of winter.  I think it’s the combination of the cold air and driving home in the dark that makes me feel this way.  With the change in season comes the rise in sniffles, sneezes and coughs; but before you run out for your supply of Vitamin C or the newest remedy to ward off a cold, you may want to look no further than your activity level.


According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, individuals who reported five days or more of aerobic exercise per week compared to those who were sedentary (less than 1 day/week of activity) were 43 percent less likely to have an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) (1).  The investigators studied 1,002 adults aged 18-85 over 12 weeks during the autumn and winter of 2008.  Individuals reported their aerobic level and used a 10-point scale to assess the level of physical fitness.

The authors took into account other factors that may have confounded the results (e.g., lifestyle, diet and stress) in their analyses.  In addition, they found that people’s perception of how fit they felt and the amount of activity performed lessened the severity of URTI and symptoms by 32-41 percent.


More intriguing is another recent paper (2) in which rats that like to exercise, were bred with similar exercise-loving rats for 11 generations.  These were compared to rats that didn’t like to run who were bred with other exercise-hating rats for 11 generations.  The super rats could not only run more distance than their coach potato cousins, but several groups of genes were up-regulated.


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  1. D.C. Nieman, Henson D.A., Austin M.D et al. Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. Brit J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsm.2010.077875.
  2. R. Kivela, M. Silvennoinen, M. Lehit et al.  Gene expression centroids that link with low intrinsic exercise capacity and complex disease risk.  FESEB J 24: 4565-4574 (2010).

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