Exercise for stronger immune function… but don’t overdo it

This month we interviewed award-winning national body fitness champion and personal trainer Karen Norris (www.karen-norris.co.uk) about the role of exercise in immunity, and we’re pleased to share her thoughts with you here…

“Maintaining general fitness levels by exercising 2-3 times a week will help support a healthy immune system. Walking, running or cycling outdoors is a great way to improve general fitness levels – don’t let the cold put you off though, just dress in layers, as you’ll soon warm up! The fresh air makes a pleasant change to gyms with strong air conditioning, which can be breeding grounds for flu germs at this time of year.


“Anyone who’s active also needs to pay attention to their nutrition, which should be thought of as the body’s ‘fuel’. Supplementing with vitamin C can give you an added boost, and garlic provides excellent antioxidants to support immunity. Of course, there’s no shortcut to being healthy, and supplements should be additional to an otherwise healthy diet.


“If your immune system does take a knock, you don’t need to cut out exercise altogether but leave the cardio until you feel better – it’ll only put further stress on your already compromised immune system. Listen to your body and, if you feel okay, a little weight training is fine. Post-exercise nutrition is really important when you’re not 100%, so make sure you replenish with sufficient carbohydrates and protein within two hours of exercise.


Dieting is a no-no if you do catch a cold as calorie restriction will weaken your immune defence. No matter how determined you are to stick to your new year’s resolution, you can focus on your weight loss goals after you’ve recovered. Ensure you get enough complex carbohydrates from wholegrain rice, pasta, or oats, to replenish glycogen levels and keep energy levels up. High protein diets are effective for weight loss and are really popular right now, but following a low carb diet when unwell will slow down your recovery.”


“For exercise fanatics – regularly spending more than two hours doing intense exercise be careful of putting this much stress on your immune system especially when it’s under constant threat at this time of year.”


“If you’re new to exercise but have decided that 2012 is the year to improve your fitness, make sure you build up activity gradually. Start off with 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week, and definitely don’t launch straight into five intensive workouts weekly… you won’t get results faster, and you’re more likely to put yourself back. When we’re new to exercise, it  can be a shock to the system, so you don’t want to be dieting – take a balanced approach. People often fall into the trap of thinking that dieting is just about dropping calories, but what’s more important is changing the composition of your meals and what’s on your plate. Portion size can stay the same if you replace your heavy starchy carbohydrate foods with complex carbohydrates, lean meat and fish, vegetables and fruit, and good fats such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3s, which support a healthy immune system. I take Omegaflex  omega-3 EPA and glucosamine daily, so I know that I’m getting my supply of good fats as well as supporting my joints.”

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