What if I told you there's a way to reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu, and you don't have to take a pill or visit your doctor? What if I also told you this method of prevention probably flies in the face of everything your mother told you? Would you believe it could work.

I remember when I was a teenager I got some nasty colds. My mom always told me to stay inside and rest. But I rarely let them slow me down. Against my mom's advice, I would sneak out of the house and ride my bike to a friend's house. There we would play a vigorous game of basketball. And we would follow it up with some intense ping pong. I would come home sweating. But the fever was gone. The sweat was from the exercise. I essentially burned out the infection. As we age, this is more difficult to do. But you can still use exercise to prevent colds and the flu.

A recently published study tested 115 sedentary, overweight, and postmenopausal women for exercise and cold prevention. None of the participants smoked or took hormone replacement therapy. Half were assigned to an aerobic exercise program and half to passive stretches.

The women who exercised regularly had half the risk of colds from those in the more passive group. Even more telling, the longer exercise was used, the greater the enhanced immunity. It was strongest in the final quarter of the study. That suggests that it's important to stick with exercise long term to get the best results.

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Americans suffer approximately one billion colds each year. The cost to society is astronomical. Imagine cutting that figure in half. And if the exercise was done outdoors, where the sun could bless you with vitamin D production, I bet the effect would be even greater.

I can't say that I don't get colds. But they are few. I have missed only two days of work due to illness in about 20 years. I credit my diet, two days a week of aerobic exercise and another three days of walking into town and carrying my groceries home. I'm convinced it keeps my immune system healthy, and this study proves it.

Exercise protects your heart, your brain, your organs, your longevity, and your immune system. It's as vital as any nutrient. Please be sure you get whatever exercise you can. Aerobic is best, but simply walking or gardening will do wonders.

American Journal of Medicine, November 2006; 119(11): 937.

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