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Exercise Reduces Sick Time Better Than Drugs

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
10/20/2009 1:00 PM   :  115 comments   :  28,872 Views

As cold and flu season quickly approaches (or has already arrived if you live in my house), questions arise about exercise and illness. Is it okay to exercise if I have a cold? How soon after an illness can I return to regular activity? A lot of us are going to get sick this year, so it's good to know what to do if it happens to you. But what about preventing illness in the first place? We take our vitamins and eat our fruits and vegetables, but can exercise help protect you from getting a cold? Research says "yes."

According to an expert from the American College of Sports Medicine, "multiple studies have shown a 25% to 50% decrease in sick time for active people who complete at least 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as walking) most days of the week." The protection that regular exercise offers is far greater than the protection drugs can provide, according to the article. So instead of taking a pill, take a walk to help ward off a cold!

Despite your best efforts, you might still end up getting the sniffles this winter. So what are some guidelines to follow when it comes to exercise?

  • If you've got a cold that's above the neck (runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, etc.) then you should be okay to exercise if you're feeling up to it.
  • If you have a cold that's below the neck (in your chest), or if you have other symptoms like a fever or swollen glands, it's better to rest.
  • Listen to your body. If you're not feeling good and you push it too much, the illness can end up hanging around longer.
  • Once you're well again, ease back into exercise. You might find it takes a week or two (or maybe even longer, depending on how sick you were) to get back up to your pre-illness level.
Do you notice you get fewer colds now than you did before you became active? Has being fit helped you fight off illness?


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Comments

  • 115
    I feel like every time I start to exercise, I get sick. So far, I got kicked out of my house when my husband got some weird fever that resulted in loss of his shoulders (docs don't know what it was), a couple of months after that, my daughter passed the H1N1 to us, then she shared the stomach virus and now she has given me a head cold.

    My doc told me not to work out while I was sick because my body was already stressed and to give it a break. Ironically, I don't trust doctors. - 4/6/2014   5:51:25 AM
  • 114
    Didn't have a cold this winter, so I'm happy. Did HATE the cold tempteratures. - 1/19/2010   11:51:41 AM
  • 113
    Oh, I can't tell you how frustrated I am! I love SP, and I have totally changed my lifestyle. I'm current on my trackers, following them religiously. However, this is the SECOND cold I have had in less than two months! Ugh! I know that I've only been doing this since October, but I wish the "healthy" button would know that I've pushed it! :o/ - 12/16/2009   4:07:56 PM
  • PSYCHOJULES
    112
    ugh, feeling the end of my cold right now (guzzled tea and soup like a nut yesterday, and today i'm staying in recovering some, watching the freak snowfall, and trying to do a research paper). but its nice to know there're probably some things you can get done, as far as exercise goes. i could probably do some weight training, or walking in place. my head gets all fuzzy a good portion of the time, though, and screws with my balance, so most exercise would be out the window. but i'll give it some shots now and then and see what works. my life is trial and error, really. - 12/4/2009   11:48:50 AM
  • 111
    not just exercising but living this healthier lifestyle has all played apart with not gettin sick as often as well as how long and severe my colds are, with my breathing problems, if it went into my chest, i would have to take a breathing treatment every half hour, now, more like every 4 hrs, i cant believe what a change it has made for my overall health!! - 11/7/2009   10:45:27 PM
  • 110
    I have been walking and exercising pretty faithfully for a year and a half and then got very frustrated when I got pneumonia this past summer and was hospitalized for four days. I felt kinda cheated because I'm healthier then I've been in years but that really layed me out. I guess sometimes infections sneak their way in, no matter what I do. Right now I have a sinus infection but am getting over it quicker then in past years and it hasn't followed it's usual pattern of causing bronchitis. In fact the Dr. said my lungs are clear. Vast improvement from past years with chronic bronchitis. I also hardly ever need my asthma inhalers any more. So exercise can't keep all illness away but it seems to help with the duration and severity. Now I'm off to blow my nose and go for a walk. - 11/7/2009   12:03:05 PM
  • 109
    The only thing I get is a very rare cold maybe once a year and that usually happens when I let my regular exercising lapse because I am "too busy". I stay more and more away from that kind of thinking as the years pass -- there is no such thing as being too busy to get in some kind of exercise throughout the week. It takes planning just like anything else you want to fit into your schedule. - 11/6/2009   3:02:58 PM
  • 108
    First to respond to CSCOF1214's comment, I would say that it sounds like stress is an added component to your getting sick especially since you mentioned that it is usually before big events. Your body is telling you to SLOW DOWN.

    I agree completely with this article. I had a cold last week. I took a couple of days to rest, and then I went for several walks which boosted my energy and and reduced my recovery time. - 11/6/2009   1:50:20 AM
  • 107
    Before I lost 80 pounds, I would get at least 2 colds per year. Now that I eat healthfully and exercise regularly, I get a cold once every 2 years!

    I just had a cold 2 weeks and I continued my regular exercise routine. I usually felt much better after the gym and my cold only lasted for 3 days. My hubby caught the same cold (from me - Sorry Sweetie) and his lasted for a week!

    I was just really meticulous about wiping down anything I touched so the person coming after me did not get me germs ;) - 11/5/2009   10:33:04 AM
  • 106
    I don't usually get sick. I work with the public and I've never gotten the flu shot & I don't plan on getting the swine flu shot either. My family gets sick at least twice a year, but not me. Maybe it's the exercising I do or maybe it's good genes I don't know but consider myself blessed because of it. - 11/1/2009   12:41:48 PM
  • 105
    I feel that exercise has done more for muscle and joint pains than anything else. I have chronic sinus problems. I think the only thing that has helped was surgery a few years ago. I've been running and exercising religiously for the past couple of months after my knee injury. Then, I got sick with a flu, then sinus infection, respiratory infection, and now it's much worse. I went to a zumba class once this week and got very light headed. I felt good about myself that I went, but not so much during the class. I really want to go, but there's no way I have enough energy or air capacity with all of my coughing to go. - 10/30/2009   3:37:15 PM
  • 104
    I have gotten sick but do believe that exercise wards off a lot of illnesses. - 10/29/2009   10:37:45 AM
  • 103
    I recovered from a cold VERY quickly just this past weekend. Wednesday last week, I started to feel a little cruddy, but chalked it up to a lack of sleep and hit the gym anyway. I CRASHED that night, sleeping 11 hours. Thursday, I spent the day feeling tired, achey, and sniffley. I slept lots, but still walked to and from downtown (a total of about 5 miles). The next day, I woke up feeling AMAZING!! I think my choice to exercise (and catch up on sleep) are why I got over it in a day instead of 4. - 10/28/2009   7:52:45 PM
  • 102
    I haven't been sick once since I started exercising in January. Despite everyone in my family getting sick at least twice so far. I'm a believer. - 10/28/2009   3:42:37 PM
  • 101
    Interesting study. I was down with a cold the last couple of days. I had foot surgery about a month ago, and was unable to exercise/walk for the 3 weeks before catching the cold. The fact that I wasn't in my usual exercise rountine could explain it!
    - 10/28/2009   3:25:12 PM
  • 100
    I definitely think exercise and eating right helps ward off illness. Also, stress can play a role. I've always worked out regularly, but since I've been home running my own childcare, my stress level has decreased, and I've been able to fit in more exercise, and I haven't been sick since. I occasionally get a little stuffy (when all the kids get a bad cold), but then it passes and I'm fine. It's great! - 10/28/2009   2:55:39 PM
  • CSCOFI214
    99
    well, something must be wrong with me..... because I workout 3-4 (if not more) times a week and eat really healthy, but I ALWAYS get sick right before big events like holidays or vacations and I don't understand why?! Any suggestions or ideas? It's really starting to irritate me because I'm working SO hard on keeping myself healthy and then like clockwork, I get a cold or sinus infection before EVERY important event :( - 10/28/2009   2:34:26 PM
  • 98
    I never knew why I wasn't getting the 3 - 4 colds a year. Now I know. lol - 10/28/2009   1:56:53 PM
  • 97
    I agree, though I hardly get sick. TG. - 10/28/2009   10:33:50 AM
  • 96
    I have noticed if I'm in a vigorous aerobic program where I really sweat I get less colds and they move through faster. Also helps clear my lungs faster when asthma strikes. - 10/28/2009   7:02:25 AM
  • HISPEQUE
    95
    Lifestyle,nutrition and exercise are the three vectors of health. If a person is observing all the three vectors as laid down then minor illnesses will not affect and major health hazards will be a remote possibility - 10/27/2009   9:52:30 PM
  • 94
    Most definitely I ham less sickly since beginning regular exercise. I knew it would help because I would be basically healthier if I exercised, but I am surprised at just how much healtheir I really am. If I don't get "a lot" of exercise, I feel better and stay healthier in the long run even with minimal exercise of just 10 minutes 3 times a week. *S* - 10/27/2009   8:30:43 PM
  • BEHMOM
    93
    I find that when I have a head cold and if I'm not feeling 'ill', a good cardio class helps me to sweat out the cold and it's shorter in duration. - 10/27/2009   6:40:30 PM
  • 92
    I only had one cold in the last year. - 10/27/2009   6:04:36 PM
  • 91
    I have definitely noticed a difference. Before I started exercising every day I caught anything and everything that my sons brought home from school. Since joining SP and beginning daily exercise (May 26, 2009) I have not missed a day of work due to illness. - 10/27/2009   5:00:18 PM
  • 90
    I genuinely have not had a cold since becoming a Spark member last November. I used to get about 3 colds each year before. - 10/27/2009   3:50:20 PM
  • 89
    The more active I am and the more careful about what I eat (I have several food allergies), the less illness I have - I used to get colds and flues and any little bug that was floating around...no more! Only a couple of times a year do I get sick, and I recover much faster. Hard to remember to excercise when I do have a cold, though. I just want to curl up and drink tea. - 10/27/2009   3:50:06 PM
  • 88
    I was just commenting to a friend how many colds and sinus infections I had by this time last year and how I haven't had so much as a sniffle since I started training for a marathon. She thinks its because I'm not in the club so much (I only go to the club 2x a week because I do all my running outside) and exposed to fewer "germs", but I think it's all the endorphines and the fact that I'm sweating out all the impurities in my body by long distance running. A matter of opinion or just a coincidence but I'll take this fabulous feeling over being sick anyday! - 10/27/2009   2:46:47 PM
  • 87
    To me, working out doesn't seem humanly possible at the moment. I have a really bad cold (possibly the flu) and I can't get my lazy butt off the couch! I tried to do a few squats and stretches like that, but when I stood up, I got very light-headed. I had to wait about 5 minutes for the dizziness to pass, so then I started doing squats and toe-touches and brisk knee-lifts, but I only got through 10 of each and then I collapsed onto the couch! I have no idea how I am supposed to find the energy to hit the elliptical!!!!!!!!!! - 10/27/2009   2:01:34 PM
  • QUEENCAT25
    86
    I was actually curious about this earlier in the year because I felt a cold coming on, but I went to the gym after work anyway. I woke up feeling like nothing was wrong. - 10/27/2009   12:50:20 PM
  • ALICOTTER
    85
    Started working out about 2 years ago and in that time I have had one cold. So you might have something there.

    Hardest thing about being sick with that one cold was I could not work out for about 4 days. That just about killed me. I am soooo addicted to the gym and walking that it was hard having to just take it easy at home. - 10/27/2009   12:20:28 PM
  • 84
    Unfortunately I canít say whether regular exercise would cut down on personal illness. I still havenít gotten that part of the plan to stick. Controlling diet is much easier for me than making myself exercise. Still, I have no doubt that itís true and itís yet another good reason to get a handle on making regular activity an integral part of my life.

    What has helped me though is regular flu shots, washing hands properly, and keeping hand sanitizer in the car. Iím caregiver to an elder person and using the hand sanitizer and other precautions has kept us cold and flu free for over three years.

    Iím very prone to respiratory illness myself and the last flu I caught sent me to the emergency room. I dread what the flu would do to my grandmother. Weíre doing more than crossing our fingers in the approach of the flu season thatís for sure, and every good reason I can keep in mind to add my exercise as I should is gonna help.
    - 10/27/2009   12:09:26 PM
  • 83
    Going outside to do anything: walking, gardening, running, playing tennis makes me feel better whether ill or well. I'm rarely sick though (all my life), so it's hard to guage if regular exercise prevents illness for me. Regardless, I feel better with regular outside physical activity! - 10/27/2009   11:56:14 AM
  • 82
    I agree definitely. Apart from the odd sniffle here and there and occasional general underweather feelings, I haven't had a proper cold / flu illness since I revitalised my health regime 3 years ago. And anytime I feel something coming on I hit the gym and then I'm back to myself again. There's no question about it. The endorphin rush kills all germs. - 10/27/2009   11:28:51 AM
  • JBURD09
    81
    I can definitely see the difference in how sick I used to be compared to where I'm at now. Living a more active, healthy lifestyle has paid off in the building of my immune system, which up until now, wasn't that strong. - 10/27/2009   10:59:20 AM
  • 80
    I have noticed that since I started working out as much as I am, I never get sick. Maybe some sniffles from time to time, but never that causes me to even call in sick to work! I will agree exercise prevents illness, so keep moving! - 10/27/2009   10:59:17 AM
  • 79
    YES I'm more healthier then I ever been thanks to daily exercise & losing the weight too. - 10/27/2009   10:30:51 AM
  • 78
    For me, exercising is a challenge(time-wise), but the other aspect of living healthier, eating more fruits and veggetables, I think THAT is what has helped me not get sick as much. I consume alot of leafy greens, and have lots of lemons, and a lot of berries. - 10/27/2009   10:06:14 AM
  • 77
    That's strange! I have currently got a really bad cold which began in my Sinuses last Wednesday and has now moved onto my chest. Only this morning I was thinking, how come I'm soooo much healthier now and 6 stones lighter, but still have a cold which has caused me to stay in doors / in bed since last Friday! The wierd thing is, over the past month or so I have been pushing my exercise and someone suggested me to rest! I didn't and now I'm ill. Coincidence?! Perhaps! I generally don't get as ill as I used to before changing my lifestyle!! - 10/27/2009   8:16:25 AM
  • 76
    I've had a bad cold for almost two weeks now and it's still going strong. I am still going to the gym for an hour a day and still trying to get out on my bike every day but the weather has been pretty crappy here in ontario. I just hoping it lets up soon I am so tired of feeling yucky.
    - 10/27/2009   8:06:29 AM
  • 75
    I just hardly ever get sick so I haven't put this articles datato the test - 10/27/2009   5:15:14 AM
  • 74
    I recently got a very bad cold (flu maybe?) and for the first week didn't work out because I just felt awful. However, around day 5 I also started to feel sluggish so went Friday-Sunday and, coincidence?, 2 days later my cold is almost completely gone... nothing but a cough now! :) Next time I'm starting right away; and pushing through it! - 10/26/2009   4:39:25 PM
  • 73
    I almost never get sick since I started excersizing regularly. Quitting smoking probably helped too :) - 10/25/2009   6:42:00 PM
  • 72
    I find that I am sick a lot less now then I was before . . . . I think its also part of your state of mind. . When you work out, you feel like you are healthier !! - 10/24/2009   6:16:19 PM
  • VANANDEL
    71
    I definitely see a difference between people who work out regularly and those who do not. Fit people do get sick less often and when they do get sick, they recover much quicker. Given all the good stuff that comes with working out I find it hard to believe more people don't jump on the bandwagon. I'm lucky that I live in Colorado, which is the fittest state - we have a culture here that promotes activity regardless of the weather! - 10/23/2009   11:43:25 PM
  • JUSTJULIE1216
    70
    ill try this next time im sick - 10/23/2009   5:54:00 PM
  • 69
    Yes! I have not only fended off alot of the flu/colds that have been around the office and neighborhood but feel so much better as well! Thanks for sharing this information! - 10/23/2009   4:28:54 PM
  • 68
    It so true! Once I started taking my bik every where I stopped getting colds all the time! woot to fitness - 10/22/2009   10:41:28 PM
  • CYNNANE
    67
    Yes! I used to get sick, and by sick I mean REALLY sick about every three months. I would be ill for about 3 weeks, serious bacterial infections, strep throat, and always severe tonsillitis (to the point that I wouldn't be able to eat solid food, and at one point I was so sick of it I BEGGED the doctor to remove them even when I didn't have health insurance). Since I started eating better and exercise I rarely get sick, and when I do it lasts about half the time. In fact my daughter had the flu two weeks ago (not H1N1, but a high fever and stomach virus) and I didn't get sick. Normally I would have been sick with the same thing for days, but I was around her for days caring for her and I never got a temp or even the sniffles. - 10/22/2009   6:31:52 PM
  • BLODEUWEDD
    66
    I think it is because if you work out or just simply work hard you have a higher level of stamina and fittness to begin with (and a positive mental attitude) !! - 10/22/2009   10:24:57 AM

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