Physical Workout in the Season of Colds and Cold Weather

Written by: Prof. Alojz Ihan, M.D., Ph.D.

Physical workout is effort and with it also stress. We all know that in sports there is no progress without training to the edge of our capacity and therefore force the body to adjust (with the growth of muscle, heart) to more burdened way of life. Every training session where we want to make progress has to go to an area where we do not feel comfortable, but we have to overcome the efforts and temptations to quit. If we insist despite of temptations, we can do more and more next time. But if you never go in the area of anguish and effort there will be no progress.

However, big and frequent stress is also an inhibitor of the immune system. Top athletes are more susceptible to infections than people who do not train. It is also clear that training while a person is already infected significantly worsens the disease. A well known report of an outbreak of polio is from 1973 from the west of USA. At the school where otherwise no one was properly vaccinated only nine boys got seriously ill - all nine intensively practised sports. There was a study in 1982 that found that members of American student football teams were twice more at risk of meningitis than average students. In the same year they studied 150 marathon runners how often they suffer from colds. The sickest were those who trained more and had better results. Resistance noticeably worsens after one intensive training and even more so after a few months long season of hard training and competitions. At the end of the season skiers' production of antibodies A, that protect mucosal of infections, especially colds, reduces as much as 70%.

Therefore, particularly the most ambitious athletes have to watch that they do not expect more than their body is realistically capable. In this case, an athlete can "train" himself a real disease manifested with a weakened immune system, general fatigue, headache, diarrhoea, weight loss, loss of sexual interest. Over trained athlete does not want to do the work in school or in the workplace and not at practice.

Sleep is restless and difficult and he wakes up tired early in the morning. He is unable to relax and frequently disputes with the surroundings and himself. Other occurrences are swelling of the lymph glands, allergies get worse, respiratory infection and injuries are common. Small scratches heal very slowly. A regular occurrence is loss of menstruation for female athletes.

Disability of the body of an over trained athlete is mainly due to hormonal changes but it can also lead to serious and severe illness, which leave long lasting consequences. The body is therefore extremely complex and efficient organism that tries to establish a balance (homeostasis) despite a wide variety of influences, but only if we tolerate and help it. Repeated extreme efforts change metabolic and hormonal status of the athlete to some function, e.g. sexual, completely stop working; females lose menstruation, men due to declination of testosterone lose normal sexual functioning. Athletes, especially in intense training, often have increased metabolism due to training and efforts so that intuitively feeding is many times not sufficient and requires a program composed on the basis of laboratory analyses. Regarding dietary supplements, the first is amino acid glutamine that muscles during training exhaust a lot from the blood so that it runs out for immune cells, which also need it. Immune cells need after glutamine is particularly critical when infected, because without enough glutamine immune cells can not multiply, which is the basis for the immune response and formation of protective antibodies that overcome infection. For division and functioning of immune cells - particularly for the formation of oxygen radicals, which destroy bacteria - is also often critical amino acid arginine and a sufficient supply of iron. On the other hand, there are too many harmful oxygen radicals in intense sport, so it is convenient to enter antioxidants, selenium, taurine, vitamin E, A and C. These additives try to help top athletes to reduce "the window for infection" caused by greater physical effort and is laboratory shown primarily as a disappearance of antibodies in saliva and mucus in respiratory and digestive system, which increases the risk of respiratory infections, especially viral.

Studies show that recreational physical activity in people, who regularly practice it, is also recommended during milder colds, if body temperature does not exceed 37.5° C and if our overall physical well-being is not affected - we have no pain in muscles and joints, without nausea, fever, feeling of coldness, no diarrhoea, cough and heavy breathing. If the cold only troubles "above the neck"- in the throat, nose and eyes, physical workout does not harm. However, this only applies to physical workout that is a part of our normal physical workout – there is no sense that we dedicate to work out during a cold, if it is not otherwise practiced. Of course, during the cold pay attention to lower workout time for at least a quarter to avoid described general problems (nausea, chills, cough, heavy breathing) - if this happens, it is necessary to slow down the workout or stop early.

When we talk about workout in the cold, the same rules apply; you may therefore workout what you are accustomed to, if you only have problem above the neck - in the throat, nose and eyes. If cold worsens problems e.g. tearing eyes, rather stop. It is understandable, however, that we have to prevent possible hypothermia in the combination of a cold weather and a cold – with an adequate multi dressing, protection of arms, legs and particularly the head, breathing in a scarf or hat. Any shaking or shivering is a sign that something may be seriously wrong with either our health or our protection against the cold and hypothermia - in this case, immediately stop exercising, warm up and drink enough warm liquid.