Sun 6 Jan 2013
Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and didn’t get sick. I did! I got a bad case of the flu. I’m an avid runner—isn’t that supposed to keep me healthy? I just heard on the news that we are having the worst flu season in years and to get your flu shot ASAP. I, for one, do not believe in flu shots. I got one back when I worked in public accounting in the 1970’s and then got the flu. Oh yes, I heard that the shots are different now, but I haven’t complied and the last time I got the flu was about 25 years ago—that is until this last Christmas.
I took a trip back home, to freezing Wichita, Kansas and to temps in the 30’s. That is not comfortable for anyone but especially a lightweight from Southern California. My parents hosted Christmas dinner to 25 people. It was wonderful until later that night when I started throwing up at about the same time my son started throwing up. Then I heard my sisters’ family was all throwing up. Then a couple of days later my parents got sick and then my sister got sick. About half of the dinner attendees got the flu. Yuck!
I have always prided myself on being healthy. I take various vitamins and herbs and I exercise frequently. I am surprised that my immune system would allow me to get the flu. But the fact is, the strength of our immune systems depends on many factors such as stress, what we eat, how much we sleep, and how we exercise.
Let’s focus on how we exercise. I did some research on running and the immune system, since I run. But it makes sense that you could expand this information to other forms of aerobic exercise. It appears that 30 to 40 minutes of moderate daily exercise will strengthen the immune system while longer runs will weaken it temporarily. The longer and more intense you work out, the more cortisol levels increase and this can weaken the immune system for up to three days. The good news is that if you allow your body to recover, then your immune system will adapt and get stronger. That is why rest is very important, especially after an intense workout like a long distance run or speed work.
It was also interesting to learn that long slow distance can weaken your immune system more than a shorter intense workout. Why? Long slow distance uses slow-twitch muscle fibers which feed on simple sugars—the same as the immune system. So it’s important to not increase volume and intensity at the same time. Keep your intense workouts short. Here is a great link on how to keep your immune system strong. http://www.runnersworld.com/health/immune-it-all
If you want to read about studies conducted on running and the immune system, try this link. http://www.pfitzinger.com/labreports/immune.shtml
So, I’m thinking, yes, I have been training hard the last two months to get my running speed and mileage up to where it was before I quit running and just did yoga for two months. I have increased volume and intensity at the same time and stressed my immune system. My body is telling me to relax and slow down. The moral of this story is to listen to your body. I survived the Kansas weather and the flu and hope to not have to experience the flu again for at least another 25 years. Run smart and stay healthy this winter.
Note: My book, Breaking Barriers, will be published in 2013. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being included on the email list. “No, sheer effort is not the key to getting what we want. It’s much easier than that. Yes—easier.”