Getting Colds, It’s Not Just the D, it’s the E
Reference: David Nieman Br Jr of Sports Med, Nov 2010
Want to not get a cold this winter? I don’t. What we call colds are probably a whole host of different viruses. A really bad cold is probably influenza of one kind or another. Rhinoviruses are the archtypical stuffy nose and cough. But we call lots of things “a cold”. Now, imagine taking 1002 Wisconsin citizens (ages 18-85) and tracking them precisely for symptoms of some sort of upper respiratory illness for 12 weeks in the winter of 2008. Instead of swabbing and culturing viruses, Niemann and his team put their research effort into measuring activity, aerobic exercise, diet and weight. (I liked this study. It’s on us folks here in chilly Wisconsin where it’s 23 degrees this morning)
And what they found is quite unique. Those folks who described themselves as “Fit”, and by that they had to exercise in some fashion 4-5 days a week, had only 4.4-4.9 days of “colds” per person. Those who exercised between 1 and 4 days a week had 4.9 to 5.5 days of “colds”. Finally, those who fondly stayed on the couch and only got up one day a week or less had 8.2 to 8.6 “cold” days.
Do you see the pattern? Folks didn’t just have fewer colds. They also had shorter colds. That means exercise does something for their immune system and how it reacts to and clears the infecting virus. Their summary data concluded that couch potatoes had about twice the likelihood of catching a cold, and when they got one, it was about 33% tougher and longer lasting. The average adult in America has about two to four colds a year. Kids have six to ten colds as their immune system is ramping up and learning how to fight new viruses.
There is a valuable lesson in here. This study looks at the 30,000 foot view and describes the big picture. If you drill down to your immune system, we can also see the effects of exercise there. Getting out there and getting yourself sweaty turns on your immune cells and shuts down many of your inflammatory markers. It increases your insulin sensitivity as well. Insulin and inflammation are ever so delicately intertwined. There is abundant research showing all the markers of inflammation just getting better with exercise. It’s not just about weight loss. It’s about immune function, mental function, reduced heart disease, less cancer….And you can see it with the everyday common cold.
WWW: What will work for me? Well, if you are sitting at home with your two beautiful kids, one of whom is coughing on you, you might want to think of a strategy to keep all of you well. How about building in regular exercise every week. Take the kids to the skating rink this winter. Plan on building snow forts with them. Find a way to use your imagination to make exercise happen every day. When you walk your dog, try jogging for a hundred yards here and there. Your dog will love it. Your immune system will too. And on Dec 31, you can look back and pat yourself on the back for a year well done.