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Fight the Flu with Exercise

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If your fitness motivation has taken a nosedive along with the temps outdoors, here's another reason to keep up the hard work: Exercising for at least two-and-a-half hours a week—that’s about 20 minutes a day—can reduce your chances of catching the flu by 10 percent, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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But just running around the block or plugging away on the treadmill isn't going to cut it. In fact, if you’re serious about staying healthy, you have to really put you back into your workouts, report the researchers. While vigorous exercise—which should leave you breathing hard and feeling tired—offered the health benefit in the study, moderate exercise did not.

What gives? The study authors say that more research is needed to confirm the findings, but other studies have shown that working out seems to improve immunity. It's possible that physical activity helps expel bacteria from the lungs, or that the rise in body temperature may help kill off infectious bugs. Also, the connection between high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and protection from disease has been noted before. Working out harder (not longer) appears to have an entirely different effect on the body. And some researchers believe that there is a certain threshold you need to pass in order to see changes, which could explain why a more intense sweat sesh could work toward keeping you disease-free, while keeping it low key doesn't do much. (That said, any workout is better than no workout.)

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Just note: If you mostly work out indoors (hello, cold weather!), you may want to take extra precautions. Gyms are notoriously rife with germs thanks to the close quarters and sweaty inhabitants, so if you're working your butt off indoors, you're not in the clear! In fact, 63 percent of gym equiptment is contaminated with rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, found a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. (Eek.) Your move: Show up prepared. Bring your own towel, avoid touching your face between sets, and wash your hands thoroughly after your sweat session to avoid getting sick. Need a place to start kicking it up? Check out this 8-Minute Total-Body Workout that will have you sweating in no time!

 

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