Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2003 / 11 Adar I, 5763

BODYLESSONS: Under the weather, but want to work out?

By Judi Sheppard Missett | When sneezing and sniffles overtake you, it's hard to know if maintaining your regular workout schedule will hurt more than help. The average adult gets two to four respiratory infections each year, with children getting even more. The type and severity of your infection is usually a good indicator of whether or not you should exercise.

Many people confuse colds with influenza. Influenza, commonly known as the "flu,'' is a respiratory illness caused by a specific virus. It is characterized by fever and cough, often accompanied by a headache, congestion, fatigue, body aches or sore throat.

Also a respiratory illness, the "common cold'' can be caused by one of 200 different viruses. Cold symptoms may include nasal congestion, sneezing, a runny nose and scratchy throat, but fevers are experienced only about 10 percent of the time.

So when do you opt to curl up on the couch rather than curling up from your exercise mat? Many health experts recommend the neck-up rule. If your symptoms are located from the neck up -- runny nose, congestion, headache -- go ahead and exercise. Just take it easy, as you're obviously not at your physical best. If your symptoms include body aches and fever, however, stay home and get some rest.

While you're recuperating, drink plenty of fluids, take vitamin C, and eat well-balanced meals. Fluids help flush toxins from your system. Although research indicates that vitamin C doesn't do much to prevent colds and flu, taking 200-500 milligrams per day does appear to speed recovery, and healthy meals spur the body's virus fighters into action.

Of course, your best defense is a good offense. To prevent colds and flu, be sure to wash your hands frequently, at least five times a day, for a minimum of 15 seconds each time. Germs are spread most often when people touch something infected, then touch their own eyes or nose. Protect your immune system, as well. Avoid stress and loneliness, which deplete your disease-fighting reserves. Boost them instead by: getting plenty of sleep; eating a well-balance diet with lots of fruits and vegetables; drinking plenty of water; kicking the cigarette habit (smokers are twice as likely to catch respiratory infections and take longer to recover than non-smokers); taking time to relax; keeping a positive outlook; getting your flu shots early; and exercising.

Medical research supports the connection between regular exercise and improved immunity. One study found that active people have 25 percent fewer colds than inactive people. Another found that sedentary women who began taking a brisk 45-minute walk five days a week cut their sick days from colds in half.

If you're feeling a little under the weather but well enough to stretch out and move around, why not try a few yoga exercises? The following cobra pose stretches the abdominal muscles while strengthening the back muscles.

Begin lying face-down on the floor or on a padded exercise mat. Place your hands flat on the floor by your shoulders, with your elbows pulled in by your sides. Tighten your abdominal muscles and keep them engaged throughout this exercise to support your lower back.

Keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed, slowly press your upper body off the floor until your back begins to arch. Be sure not to force this stretch or press up too far. If you feel any pain or discomfort in your lower back, decrease the stretch by lowering your upper body to a more comfortable position. Pause for a few seconds, breathing naturally; then return to the beginning position. Repeat as desired.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.


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