+ Got a Cold? Keep on Exercising

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Gina Kolata, in an article in the NY Times, asked the experts whether a cold means stop exercising. 

Should you do today’s workout?  If so, should you push yourself as hard as usual — or take it easy?  And will it make you worse, better or have no effect?

Many avid exercisers, she found, make up their own rules.  Dr Michael Joyner, an exercise researcher at the Mayo Clinic who is a swimmer and runner, keeps running if he possibly can.

Says Joyner

I can tell you that unless I am really wiped out, I still work out but maybe scale back a bit.  I think that would be the answer from most relatively hard-core, old-school types.  If I have an obvious fever and muscle aches I do very little or take a day or two off, but I really have to be in a bad way to do that.

Dr Bill Schaffner is chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt and a member of the board of directors of the Infectious Diseases Society.  He describes himself as a jogger who runs a few miles most days and goes to a gym for resistance training.

He continues his workouts when he has a cold.

Schaffner says exercise makes him feel better, and speculates that perhaps it is because blood vessels dilate when a person exercises. 

I think exercise pushes me along a route to recovery.   Of course, I recognize that I might have been on a route to recovery anyway.  But I can’t think of a reason why exercise would affect you adversely.

Two Little Known Studies

Although many she questioned were unaware of specific studies relating to the question, Kolata found that Schaffner’s and Joyner’s strategies are actually supported by two little-known studies published a decade ago in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

According to Leonard Kaminsky, an exercise phsiologist at Ball State University, the studies began when a trainer there, Thomas Weidner, wondered what to tell athletes when they got colds.

The first question: Does a cold affect your ability to exercise?

To address that, researchers found 24 men and 21 women ages 18 to 29, of varying levels of fitness, who agreed to be deliberately infected with a rhinovirus (the virus responsible for about a third of all colds).  Another group of 10 young men and women served as controls; they were not infected.

At the start of the study, all subjects were tested for lung function and exercise capacity.  Two days after the injection of the rhinovirus, when the cold symptoms were at their worst, the subjects exercised by running on treadmills at moderate and intense levels.

Researchers reported:

  •  having a cold had no effect on lung function 
  •  having a cold had no effect on exercise capacity.

Says Kaminsky, “I was surprised their lung function wasn’t impaired.  I was surprised their overall lung function wasn’t impaired, even through they were reporting feeling fatigued.”

Researchers also tested the subjects at different points in the exercise sessions, from moderate to intense effort, and found that

  • their colds had no effect on their metabolic responses.

Second question: does exercising when you have a cold affect your symptoms and recovery time?

This time, 34 young men and women were randomly assigned to a group that would exercise with their colds; 16 others were assigned to rest.

The exercising group ran on treadmills for 40 minutes every other day at moderate levels of 70 percent of their maximum heart rates.

Every 12 hours, all the subjects in the study completed questionnaires about their symptoms and physical activity.  Researchers collected their used facial tissues, weighing them to assess cold symptoms.

The findings:

  • there was no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested
  • there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds
  • according to Kaminsky, self-assessing exercsers said they felt OK “and in some cases, they actually felt better”

Now Kaminsky says he and others at Ball State encourage people to exercise when they have colds, at least if they have  the type producing symptoms like runny noses and sneezing.

They are more cautious about other types of colds that produce fevers or symptoms below the neck, such as chest congestion.

And, says Kaminsky, exercising with a head cold is not an issue for athletes, because most of them want to train no matter what.  “If anything, they want to push too much.”

Dr Kaminsky also runs a fitness program at the university, dealing with regular exercisers.  He says many are a little suspicious when he tells them it’s all right to exercise through a cold.

He tells them it’s okay to cut back for a short period of time.  But only cut back briefly, he says, because

what you have to be cautious of, where I see it as more of an issue, is with people who are trying to build that exercise habit.  They’ve got all these barriers anyway.

And too often taking time off because of a cold is the start of falling away from the exercise program entirely.

sole source: Gina Kolata’s article in the NY Times on 12/25/08.   www.nytimes.com

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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