Colds and Exercise

I faced a scientific dilemma tonight. I had a swimming practice, but I also had a cold.

When you have a cold, you are supposed to rest and get well. But exercise is oh so very good for your health. Perhaps it is worthwhile to exercise despite not feeling well.

You might be tempted to Google up some folk wisdom and people’s opinions on the matter. But its easy for folks to get confused. Exercise causes so many complicated reactions in the body, that its easy to believe that many people would confuse correlations with causation or make another reasoning error and develop erroneous, superstitious beliefs. This is really a question that’s best addressed by a study.

So, I wonder if anyone has done some proper studies on the topic. Better hit up Google Scholar and look for things that look highly cited and randomized. Here’s what I found:

Two randomized experimental trials using small numbers of subjects have provided important preliminary data in support of the viewpoint that moderate physical activity may reduce URTI [upper respiratory tract infections] symptomatology. Clinical data support the concept that heavy exertion increases the athlete’s risk of URTI because of negative changes in immune function and elevation of the stress hormones, epinephrine, and cortisol. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that moderate amounts of exercise may decrease one’s risk of URTI through favourable changes in immune function without the negative attending effects of the stress hormones.

I don’t have time to evaluate its quality properly let alone do a proper literature review, but it has more than 200 citations, some of which are from the past couple of years. That’s good enough for me to hit the pool. But, I’ll make sure not to work too hard. It sounds like that would be bad.

If I had listened to Google, I might have gotten it wrong.

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One thought on “Colds and Exercise

  1. in case you were interested, the first four google hits…

    sportsmedicine.about.com:
    “if your symptoms are above the neck and you have no fever, exercise is probably safe. Intensive exercise should be postponed until a few days after the symptoms have gone away.”

    metafilter.com:
    “you’ll be too sick to exercize when you feel too sick to exercize”

    quantumhealth.com:
    “Fitness professionals note that many people think they feel better after a workout, but agree that it’s the endorphins kicking in. Chances are these same folks will feel worse a few hours later”

    trainharder.com:
    “The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.””

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