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Nothing beats the common cold like a brisk walk

walkingsisters_t_1.jpgBOONE—For more than 20 years, Dr. David Nieman and his colleagues at Appalachian State University have studied the effects of exercise, diet, weight, gender and education levels on one’s health. His work shows exercise has the most influence on a person’s health.

“Exercise is probably the most powerful thing you can do to reduce your sick days this winter,” Nieman said. Nieman is a professor in the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science in the College of Health Sciences at Appalachian State University. He also is director of the university’s Human Performance Laboratory located in the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

Research conducted by Nieman, Dr. Dru A. Henson from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, Melanie D. Austin from the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science and Dr. Wei Sha from the Bioinformatics Research Center at UNC Charlotte, has been published in the November online issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Since his original research on exercise and the immune system began in 1986, Nieman has also looked at the health benefits of carbohydrate sports drinks, large doses of vitamins C and E, ingestion of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen or Advil, and the health benefits of Quercetin, a naturally occurring substance found in red grapes, red
onions and other fruits and vegetables.

Mega doses of NSAIDS and the vitamins actually harm the immune system, while carbohydrate sports drinks reduce some of the negative inflammatory effects.

But its exercise that is the most effective in boosting a person’s immune system.

A brisk walk for 30 to 45 minutes a day increases the number of immune system cells that circulate in the body, Nieman said. Although these levels decline within a few hours, each bout of exercise is likely to enhance surveillance of harmful viruses and bacteria, and reduce the number and severity of upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold.

A study of 1,000 adults up to the age of 85 whose respiratory health was tracked for 12 weeks during the autumn and winter of 2008 showed the benefits of exercise on the upper respiratory system held true regardless of gender or age.

“We have analyzed all lifestyle factors and this is the best evidence we have thus far that regular aerobic exercise, five or more days per week for more than 20 minutes a day, rises above all other lifestyle factors in lowering sick days during the winter and fall cold seasons,” Nieman said. “In other words, people can knock down sick days by about 40 percent by exercising aerobically on most days of the week while at the same time receiving many other exercise-related health benefits.”

The number of days with symptoms among those who said they were physically active on five or more days of the week and felt fit was almost half than that of those who exercised on only one or fewer days of the week.

The severity of symptoms fell by 41 percent among those who felt the fittest and by 31 percent among those who were the most active.

Typically, the average adult can expect to have a cold twice to four times a year, while children can catch between six and 10 colds a year, on average, all of which costs the U.S. economy around $40 billion dollars, according to the journal.