5 Mar 2005

As well as helping you to shape up and give you a healthy glow, exercise can boost your immune system.

At a time of year when cold and flu is rife, the Sports Council for Wales is urging us to get active to prevent ailments.

Last year, 10.5 million days were lost in Wales through sickness absence – the cost to Welsh employers was a staggering £4.5 billion.

The recommended dose of 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week not only boosts immunity - it improves wellbeing, reduces stress and lifts morale.

Regular exercise can fight off many infections, according to Swansea’s Dr Mark Ridgewell, sports medicine doctor and GP who works with the Sports Council for Wales:

"Regular, moderate levels of physical activity are said to be protective against many infections, particularly those affecting the upper respiratory tract such as viruses like the common cold."

"Exercise produces mild elevations in the body’s natural defence systems as well as endorphins which are our happy hormones."

On the flipside, if you start getting into Paula Radcliffe levels of exercise, there is a threshold. Élite sportspeople can actually be more prone to minor infection than the rest of us, particularly immediately after intense periods of training and competition:

"There is evidence to suggest that intensive training causes a greater vulnerability so there is a higher risk of viral colds following training camps and competition. Of course, sportspeople are also often having to travel on long haul flights and are in close contact with a large number of people in athletes villages which obviously increase their risk of picking up infections," said Dr Ridgewell.