The benefits of exercise on health, both long-term and short-term, are well documented and very well known by all. However exercise can also effect your immediate well being concerning illnesses, colds and flus etc. Lots of research has been done into the effects of exercise on infection risk and the findings are actually fairly surprising.
The relationship between exercise and infection risk is described as a ‘J-shaped curve’. This refers to the shape of the graph, which shows that any level of exercise from low to moderate can help significantly decrease infection risk, however surprisingly studies have shown that prolonged very intense exercise has the opposite effect and actually increases your chances of becoming ill.
Firstly, a lot of research has shown that even very low levels of physical activity, including just performing everyday tasks around the house, decreases your infection risk. Similarly, properly planned exercise has been shown to further decrease your infection risk meaning you’re less likely to get ill and if you do get ill then it won’t be as severe or as long lasting. However, as I previously mentioned, very intense exercise has actually been shown to increase the likelihood of illness and thus elite athletes have been shown to have a higher incidence of illness than the general public. Whilst this is true, the level of exercise referred to is very intense and of very high volume (long duration and numerous consecutive days). Even if you perform this level of exercise then you shouldn’t let the increased risk off infection scare you off. There are a number of interventions that have been shown to lower infection risk within these populations;
- Encouraging basic hygiene- washing hands with soap and/or alcohol gel
- Avoid prolonged sessions (>2 hours)
- Vary training sessions/intensity of the sessions
- Eat a well balanced diet- including adequate carbohydrates, protein and micronutrients (from fruit and veg)
- Consider vitamin D supplementation, or the use of multivitamins
- Get adequate sleep and avoid life stresses
All of these interventions are backed up by numerous studies showing their effectiveness at reducing risk of infection and should therefore be taken very seriously if you are performing high intensity exercise on a regular basis.
At SG23 we promote health and well being, not just fitness and fat loss, and thus tailor our sessions around varying intensities and workloads to avoid issues such as this increased risk of illness. Remember it’s important to train smart as well as hard!