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Americans get a billion colds a year, resulting in 15 million lost workdays. No one has yet found a miracle cure, but vigorous exercise may come close. A recent study from the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, tracked the activity levels and the incidence of colds in 547 healthy adults. Those who were moderately to vigorously active for 60 to 90 minutes a day, every day, were nearly 25 percent less likely than their couch-potato counterparts to catch a cold. If 60 to 90 minutes of exercise a day seems daunting, don't worry: According to the researchers, it doesn't have to be a lengthy gym workout. Activity in smaller increments throughout the day, like walking the dog or climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, can be just as beneficial.
What is it about exercise that keeps people from getting sick? Physical activity stimulates the immune system, although experts aren't sure about the exact mechanism. "We know exercise increases heart rate and adrenaline-things that help in the short term by allowing you to breathe more deeply and clear the lungs," says Douglas McKeag, M.D., director of the Indiana University Center for Sports Medicine at the Indiana School of Medicine, in Indianapolis. "Think of it as flushing out whatever infection may be inside." For those reasons, exercising with a cold may ease symptoms (although experts warn that if you have a fever, chest congestion or hacking cough, it's best to rest). It's also thought that exercise helps in the long term by increasing circulation of the body's disease-fighting substances -- like natural killer cells -- thereby boosting the immune system overall. So this winter, put on those walking shoes and fight the urge to hibernate. You may stay healthier, and that's nothing to sneeze at.