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Walk your way to better winter health

Walking just got even better. Most walkers will already vouch for a host of mental and physical benefits. Now new research has revealed just why walkers feel so darned good during the winter as well. You see, there is a fine balance when it comes to being fit and warding off illness, especially common winter bugs, and enjoying a brisk daily walk is about the best balance you can achieve if you want to stay fit and healthy. The study at Loughborough University found a link between too little exercise, moderate exercise, too much exercise and the body’s ability to see off common winter illnesses.

Exercise can have a positive and negative impact on health

Professor Mike Gleeson, who was in charge of the research, looked at exercise and upper-respiratory tract infections that affect the nose, throat and sinuses, and include the common cold, tonsillitis, sinusitis and flu. The university study revealed that couch potatoes who do very little exercise are more likely to suffer an increase in cold-like symptoms and infections. Meanwhile, people who participate in moderate exercise, such as a daily walk  or jog, will benefit from enhancing the action of the body’s natural killer cells, which in turn can help to fight off viruses. Indeed, the cumulative effect of regular exercise will lead to a long-term improvement in immunity. But for people who participate in very high energy and endurance activities the opposite can occur.  It was found that exercising hard or for a long time in one session, such as training for and running a marathon, can actually leave you more vulnerable to illness. Prof Gleeson was reported at the Association for Science Education conference as saying: “NK cells recognise viral-infected cells as foreign invaders and force them to commit suicide. During moderate exercise the activity of NK cells is enhanced…These changes are tightly regulated by stress hormones and other immune cells.” He added that “exercise can have both a positive and negative effect on immune function, combined with genetics and other external factors like stress, poor nutrition and lack of sleep. Collectively these factors determine an individual’s susceptibility to infection”. Professor Gleeson said: “Conversely, in periods following prolonged strenuous exercise, the likelihood of an individual becoming ill actually increases. In the weeks following a marathon, studies have reported a two to six-fold increase in the risk of developing an upper respiratory infection." So there are even more reasons to pull on your walking boots and outdoor clothing and head out every day for a brisk walk. Add a longer walk at the weekends just to keep your body and mind in tip-top condition. As the Prof concluded: “Moderate exercise has a positive effect on the immune system."