I have a friend who hikes and practices yoga every week. Overall, she’s very healthy and hasn’t suffered a cold in ages. She credits exercise with keeping her A-OK. But over Thanksgiving my friend caught a cold from her granddaughter that morphed into bronchitis. Why didn’t her exercise regimen keep her healthy? Was it the stress from a recent car accident?
Although many of us like my friend are aware of the link between mild exercise and a strong immune system, scientists have been trying to ferret out the whys and hows for some time.
Exercise Boosts the Immune System
Some studies show that “moderate intensity” exercise may cut down the number of colds you get. That type of activity includes things like a 20- to 30-minute walk every day, going to the gym every other day, or biking with your kids a few times a week.
In one study in the American Journal of Medicine, women who walked for a half-hour every day for 1 year had half the number of colds as those who didn’t exercise. Researchers found that regular walking may lead to a higher number of white blood cells, which fight infections.
In another study, researchers found that in 65-year-olds who did regular exercise, the number of T-cells — a specific type of white blood cell — was as high as those of people in their 30s.
How Exercise May Help Us Fight Off Colds
But only recently have scientists begun to crack the code on why that is so. According to an article by Gretchen Reynolds in a recent issue of the New York Times, researchers in South Korea found that the connection relates to the good stress exercise puts on the body. As it turns out, workouts cause a small amount of continuous tissue damage and inflammation.
Reynolds reports, “This process seems to have familiarized the body with trauma and how best to initiate healing. The body learns how to produce a beneficial amount of inflammation, but not too much.”
As a result researchers write that when germs invade the exerciser, the immune system is more targeted and able to better able to initiate healing.
How Else Can We Fight Off Colds?
Here are some tips on how to keep your immune system healthy.
- Get more sleep
Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how sleep boosts the immune system, it’s clear that getting enough – usually 7 to 9 hours for an adult – is key for good health.
Try to get regular, moderate exercise, like a daily 30-minute walk. It can help your immune system fight infection and sleep better.
- Eat more fruits & veggies
They are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc. Go for a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
- Reduce stress
Everyone has some stress; but chronic stress exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system. Tips for managing stress:
Learn to meditate.
Connect with other people.
Work out to blow off steam.
Counseling is a big help, too.
- Socialize, have fun
Having strong relationships and a good social network is good for you.
- Keep laughing
Laughing is good for you. It curbs the levels of stress hormones in your body and boosts a type of white blood cell that fights infection.
How do you stay healthy in cold season?