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Exercise when you have a cold

Research shows that exercise helps your immune system fight off colds, but should you still exercise when you have a cold?

As long as the cold is mild, and there's no fever, exercise may help open up the nasal passages and relieve congestion.

Exercise and prevention of colds

Exercise and physical activities are important parts of a personal action plan to stay healthy and prevent chronic illness. Regular exercise allows you to improve your overall fitness, which can help to boost your immune system, the body's defence against infections.

Regular exercise appears to have the advantage of being able to boost the immune system, and that can help reduce the number of colds you catch. With exercise, the number and aggressiveness of certain immune cells, such as the ones called natural killer cells, increase by as much as 50 to 300%. If you exercise regularly, this temporary increase can help make the immune system more efficient at destroying intruders that cause illnesses such as colds.

Some findings report that moderate intensity exercise (daily 20 to 30 minute walks, going to the gym every other day, or biking with the children a few times a week) may reduce the number of colds you catch.

In one study reported in the American Journal of Medicine, women who walked for a half an hour every day for one year had half the number of colds as women who did not exercise. In this study, researchers associated regular walking with increasing levels of infection-fighting white blood cells. In another study, researchers found that the number of T-cells (a specific type of white blood cell) in 65-year-olds who exercised regularly was as high as those of people in their 30s.

Exercise with a cold: Safe or not?

Because exercise may help to boost immune function, it's usually safe to exercise with a cold, but perhaps consider reducing the intensity and duration of exercise.

Still, if you exercise with a cold, it's important to listen to your body. Sometimes cold medications such as decongestants can increase your heart rate. In addition, your heart rate is increased with exercise. The combination of exercise and decongestants can cause your heart to pump very hard. As a result you may become short of breath and have difficulty breathing.

If you have asthma and a cold, make sure you talk with your doctor before you exercise. If your asthma symptoms usually become worse when you have a cold, you'll need to use caution. Exercising with a cold and asthma may cause increased respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may require you to use more asthma medications to open your airways. Overuse of asthma medications can also cause your heart rate to increase.

If you have a raised temperature with a cold, exercise may stress your body even more. That's why it's important to wait a few days to get back to your regular exercise regimen. Working out too hard with a cold could stress your body, causing you to feel worse. This additional stress may hinder your recovery from your cold.

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