Written by Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LDN, Health Promotion Manager, IHRSA
Every year, October through March is considered “flu season,” otherwise known as “that cold part of the year when everyone you know is getting sick.” And just recently the CDC announced that they misjudged which flu strains would be most common, meaning that the vaccine is likely less effective than in previous years at warding off the flu. But while you reach for you Vitamin C supplements, consider grabbing your sneakers too.
This time of year, gyms often get a bad rap when it comes to germ spreading. And yes, gyms are a place where many people frequent in a given day, and lots of people are touching common surfaces. But these qualities are also shared by public transit, lobby doors, and public restrooms. If you’re using the cleaning solution and hand sanitizer provided at the gym – and getting in a good workout – your local health club may be a close ally in the fight against the flu.
According to Medline Plus (produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health), regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of developing bacterial and viral infections. They’re not sure why, but there are a few theories. One posits that exercise may circulate antibodies and white blood cells (which fight infection) through the body faster, allowing them to potentially detect illness more quickly. Another possibility is that activity can flush bacteria out of the lungs, which would decrease your risk of developing an airborne illness (like a cold). It is also possible that the rise in body temperature resulting from exercise exerts a similar effect as a fever, helping the body fight infection more effectively.
Of course, overdoing it can be counterproductive too. I’m certainly not saying you should go run a marathon in the snow. A moderate exercise program, which would include activities like going to the gym every other day or taking daily walks provides the best chance of helping you avoid the flu. Bonus? It’ll help burn off the holiday cookies and may help ease the winter blues.