I was very active while at school, however after school there was no more time for the same amount of exercise. About three years ago I attempted a structured exercise and weight loss programme which worked wonders! The only problem is I got sick within a week of starting this programme. Eventually, I gave up as my cold was just not getting better. I have a friend who has started a similar programme recently, after five years of inactivity. I was surprised to hear he also picked up a cold as soon as he started. I am reconsidering starting a structured programme again, but I don’t want to get sick within a week and set myself up for failure again. What is the reason for getting a cold just as I get going? Should I continue and push through my exercise programme while I am sick? And what precautions can I take to avoid getting a cold? –
RONEL BASSON, JOHANNESBURG
There is a solid body of research evidence that shows moderate intensity exercise actually boosts your immune system while only very intense or endurance exercise might impair it. Moderate exercise has been associated with approximately a 29% decreased incidence of upper respiratory tract infections – therefore I think it was just a coincidence that you got a cold (as did your friend).
The benefits of exercise are so profound and far-reaching that it would be an absolute shame for you not to exercise for fear of getting a cold. Here are a few precautions nonetheless to keep your immune system in top-notch shape.
Try to manage the stresses of life and ideally keep them to a minimum.
Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet with a minimum of five portions of fruits and vegetables per day so as to get all your vitamins and minerals.
Do regular, moderate-intensity, consistent exercise.
Consume carbohydrate beverages before, during and in the two-hour period immediately after your training (especially if training hard and long). Research shows that this helps maintain blood sugar levels, which keeps stress hormones lower. Both result in improved immune function.
Avoid overtraining and rest if you are feeling a bit worn out.
Get adequate sleep (requirements vary for different individuals).
Avoid rapid weight loss (lose no more than 0.5kg to 1kg per week).
Avoid putting hands to the eyes and nose (the most common way to introduce viruses into the body).
Consider a flu-jab in winter.
Modern Athlete Expert
Sports scientist and Health Promotions and Media Manager
at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Cape Town, and a member of Celtic Harriers with many years running experience, including five Comrades and eight Two Oceans Ultra medals.