Work Out, Stay Well

Did you know that the average American gets sick two to four times per year? And we tend to stay sick for seven to 10 days. That’s an entire month spent feeling tired, achy and miserable.

The good news is that working out three days per week is one of the most powerful tools for prevention and a speedy recovery. The even better news is that the time you invest in your own fitness (156 hours or six and a half days) is much less than the time you’d spend being sick (960 hours or 40 days).
Why does it work? There are several theories.

One explanation is that the full, deep breathing helps to flush out your lungs so that pathogens don’t get too much time to set up camp. Another is that reasonable exercise helps to balance stress hormones such as cortisol. When cortisol is too high for too long, it suppresses immune function. A third is that exercise increases the proportion of what are called your regulatory T-cells. T-cells — a type of white blood cell — fight infection, and this increase makes your immune system better at keeping you well.

But here’s what not to do. In fitness right now, the fad is “harder and longer” — pushing until you collapse or can’t keep going. While hard work is important, there is too much of a good thing. Excessively intense or long workouts increase your risk of injury and suppress your immune system (because they stimulate excessive cortisol production). Keep your workouts under an hour, and leave something in the tank.

Should you work out when you’re sick? If your symptoms are above the neck, then, yes, you can work out. The workout will probably boost your immune function and suppress microbial growth. But remember to listen to your body and keep your intensity relative to your energy. And don’t forget to wash your hands! However, if you have below-the-neck symptoms — diarrhea, vomiting, fever, etc. — then hold off until they run their course.

A best-selling author and fitness expert, Josef Brandenburg owns True 180 Fitness in Georgetown. Information about his 14-Day Personal Training Experience may be found at


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