David Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, says that multiple studies have shown a 25 to 50 percent decrease in sick time for active people completing at least 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (such as walking) most days of the week. Nieman says, “This reduction in illness far exceeds anything a drug or pill can offer. All it takes is a pair of walking shoes to help prevent becoming one of the thousands predicted to suffer from the common cold this winter.”
However, if you’ve already been struck down by illness and aren’t sure whether you should be in bed or the gym, Nieman has some tips:
- DO exercise if the cold is only confined to your head, such as illnesses with symptoms of runny noses and sore throats.
- DON’T overdo it. If you have a cold, keep exercise to a moderate-intensity level (such as walking). Studies have not found any negative effects of moderate exercise for those suffering from colds.
- DO stay in bed if your illness goes beyond the sniffles of a normal cold. Respiratory infections, fever, swollen glands and extreme aches and pains are all signs that rest is needed to help the body recover.
- DON’T jump back into exercising too soon. If you’re recovering from a serious bout of the cold or flu, it’s best to gradually ease yourself back into training after at least two weeks of rest.
Nieman also advises getting exercise prior to getting a flu shot. Moderate-intensity exercise just before the shot has been found to improve the body’s immune response to the vaccine.