- Jenn Gill
We can't control the weather or the influx of stress and holiday hoopla, we do have some control over whether or not we get sick. What if there was a way to decrease our chances of getting sick, especially during the cold winter months? In addition to the usual methods like washing your hands often and getting a flu shot, recent research suggests that keeping up with your regular exercise routine can dramatically reduce the likelihood of getting sick.
There are countless research studies out there that have highlighted the benefits of regular exercise. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine can be added to that list. Researchers from Appalachian State University, headed by exercise immunologist Dr. David Nieman (a long time marathon and ultramarathon runner), found that regular exercisers significantly reduced their chances of getting sick, compared to those that only exercised once a week. About 1,000 volunteers between age 18 and 85 were recruited to complete a daily log of cold and flu symptoms, in addition to their aerobic activity and perceived fitness level. Over the course of the 12-week study (which was conducted during cold and flu season), it was evident that the regular exercisers (those logging 5 days or more of at least 20 minutes of activity) were less likely to get sick. In fact, those regular exercisers experienced 43% fewer days of illness compared with those exercising only one day per week.
In addition to staying active, getting enough sleep can also help you avoid calling in sick. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine examined a group of 150 healthy men and women between the ages of 21 and 55 for a 2-week period. The group recorded their sleep duration and efficiency (how well they slept and how rested they felt) for two weeks. After the 2 weeks , the group was quarantined and researchers actually infected them with the cold virus and examined the group for 5 days to see if they did indeed get sick. Researchers found that individuals that slept less than 7 hours per night were almost 3 times more likely to get sick than those that slept at least 8 hours. In addition, those that didn't 'sleep well' each night were 5 and a half times more likely to get sick than those that slept well each night.
So, what does all this mean? It means we should try to make time for ourselves to be active and get the sleep we need. It all looks so good on paper, but in the real world, is it possible? I say, YES! Taking 20 minutes each day to exercise and then going to sleep maybe 20-30 minutes earlier each night may be easier than losing a week or more to a nasty cold or flu virus. I know the to-do list is a mile long, but you can tackle some of those items by combining them with exercise. Run to the post office, park further away at the mall and walk briskly to the entrance. Once inside, take an extra lap or two around the mall when you're done shopping. Walk the airport while you're waiting for your flight. There are so many ways to incorporate your exercise into regular daily life. The important thing is to recognize that a little goes a long way. And if we don't take care of ourselves in these relatively small ways, we can't take care of all the things on that to-do list! Besides, an active, well-rested you may be the key to enjoying a less stressful and less sick life.