January 31, 2013 | by Gerard Burley
Avoid the flu through fitness
sneeze, flu, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

You’re probably aware that the flu is lurking around every corner and a real threat this year. For many of you exercise lovers out there, this has not only hindered your normal workout regimen but left you with some key questions about how the flu affects your training. Well I’m here to give you the skinny, literally, on how to keep up your training and avoid becoming one of the flu’s many casualties.

First things first — don’t stop exercising and eating well during this season. This is not the time to slack off, because slacking off could actually contribute to getting sick. Studies have shown that those who exercise and eat a balanced diet full of fruits and veggies tend to have stronger immune systems than their sedentary counterparts. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, regular exercise helps to improve blood circulation which in turn helps white blood cells and disease-fighting antibodies get to where they can actually fight bacteria and viruses. In other words, when we are sweating and pumping it out at the gym, our internal highway really gets moving at a fast rate. Secondly, for my high-strung readers, regular exercise helps to combat and reduce stress. Stress and stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are major causes of illness. When their levels get too high in the body, they start to tear down our immune system and we become walking targets for the flu. Luckily, good moderate levels of exercise and a quality healing sleep can help to keep these levels down.

As if all of this weren’t enough reason for you to get off your couch and to the nearest elliptical trainer, a recent study at Iowa State University showed significant evidence that exercise boosts antibodies formed from the flu shot. Basically, the study, which was performed in both college students and mice, saw that those who exercised for 90 minutes after receiving the flu vaccine produced, in some cases, double the antibodies than those who were sedentary. A key factor to note for both under and overachievers out there is that 90 minutes seemed to be just the right amount of time for the optimal antibody boost. Those who only exercised for 30 minutes saw little effect and those who exercised for three hours actually did more damage to their immune systems.

That leads me to my top five tips to keeping your exercise up and your flu down this season:

  • Listen to your body. If you feel a little something coming on, take the day off or taper your workouts until you feel 100 percent.
  • Lean, mean, clean machine. Germs are often passed by touch so make sure you clean the cardio and weight equipment BEFORE you touch them. Remember everyone is not as hygienic as you.
  • Green tea please. If you are not a tea drinker, then this is the time to start. Green tea is known as an immunity booster by providing the body with antioxidants. Shoot for at least two cups a day; this will help to keep you well, and also rev up your metabolism.
  • Sleep tight. Most of your body’s recovery happens during deep sleep. Turn off the TV, close the iPad and shut the blinds. Shoot for six-eight hours a night; your white blood cells and the bags under the eyes will thank you.
  • Finally, stay positive/ A positive outlook really does affect how your body works. Use stress relieving techniques and optimistic visualizations to keep your mood and your body running in tip top shape.

Gerard Burley is a D.C.-based personal trainer. Reach him via @CoachGFit or coachg@coachgfitness.com.

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