Fighting flu through fitness

2013Jan24_FitnessGeneral_AWith the flu season starting early in the US this year and already at epidemic proportions, and with thousands dying each year, preventative measures are nothing to sneeze about. In the UK, the norovirus has hit hard for another winter, and across the globe the battle against cold and flu symptoms persist. However, it seems that exercise might be one way to stop respiratory infections, according to a recent study.

The at-risk groups such as the elderly or children are especially vulnerable if flu strikes. The flu jab might be able to ward off certain strains and protect to some extent but even this is not a totally impenetrable defence. In some areas this vaccine is not always so readily available and can be tricky to get hold of too. Of course, vaccination must be the ultimate weapon against this potentially deadly virus, which hospitalizes millions in the US each year.

40-50% reduction in respiratory infections
The Annals of Family Medicine published a National Institutes for Health (NIH) study looking at exercise and meditation and the effects on respiratory infections on subjects in Wisconsin. The study looked at 149 men and women aged 50 or older, over an eight week winter spell. They were tested for classic cold and flu symptoms, as well as days off from work through illness. “The results are remarkable; we saw a 40 to 50 percent reduction in respiratory infections,” said Dr. Bruce Barrett, the lead author of the study.

Less days off sick
A group of 51 people concentrated on a meditation course, while 47 people were given exercise training. The control group of 51 did neither. By the end of the study 27 of the meditation group had come down with acute respiratory infections (ARIs), resulting in 257 days off work through illness. The exercise group reported 26 people affected with 241 days off work. The control group figures recorded were 40 ARIs with a far greater 453 sick days over this period.

Boost your antibodies
Exercising may even boost the power of your flu vaccine too. Research suggests that exercise has an impact on the number of antibodies your body produces after a shot, meaning you can fight the virus more effectively. However, while those who are already on the higher echelons of physical fitness might be one step ahead of the flu virus this season, the eight week study offers hope that even if you start to get fit and healthy now you might still be in with a chance to ward off illness.

More effective vaccinations
There is no clear evidence as to why exercise could help vaccines work more effectively. Some researchers suggest it might be that exercise activates the immune system. A study in the UK, at the University of Birmingham, saw men and women lifting dumbbells for 20 minutes just a few hours before receiving a flu shot. The men had a better reaction to the vaccine than the women in general, but the women who exercised beforehand displayed a more favorable reaction to the vaccine than those not exercising, with higher antibodies.

Want to give yourself a potentially better chance to battle flu this season? Just recovered from a bad cold and want to change your fitness to fight future respiratory infections? Can’t afford days off work? Is it time you improved your health and gave your immune system a helping hand? Perhaps it’s time you got in touch and started on a healthy road to fitness recovery.

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