It’s well known that being fit and active reduces your risk of heart problems and a host of other diseases of a sedentary lifestyle. A new study suggests that at least two and a half hours of vigorous exercise a week - including what the authors term ‘fast cycling’ - cuts the risk of catching flu by around 10% too.
But gentle activity has little effect; the activity has to be hard enough that it makes you sweat or breathe hard, according to experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The findings come from the School’s online flu study, Flusurvey, which found that overall flu levels across the UK appear to be down on last year, with the flu season apparently curbed by a lack of illness among children and young people.
More than 4,800 people have taken part in this year's Flusurvey so far.
Dr Alma Adler, research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "We're really interested in the preliminary findings around fitness activity and flu-like illness, as exercise is something that everyone can do to reduce your chance of having flu.
"We need to treat this result cautiously as these are preliminary findings, however they are consistent with findings for other conditions and really show the health benefits of exercise.
"Although many people have dodged the flu bullet this winter, flu can occur at any time, so taking advantage of the better weather is a great opportunity to get out and get fit to ward off flu this spring."
Last month, an article on NHS Choices concluded that while the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads did appear to have risen in recent years, the health benefits of cycling still far outweigh the risks.
The NHS cited a Dutch study which, it said, “estimated that, on average, the benefits associated with regular cycling equated to up to 14 months extra life expectancy. The risks equated to a decreased life expectancy of up to 40 days; however, this was the upper limit and the figure may be closer to the 20-day mark.
“This represents an impressive benefit to risk ratio, despite only looking at the physical benefits of exercise. However, there are also documented psychological benefits of exercise, such as an improvement in mood, increased self-confidence and reduced risk of depression.
“So it appears that, despite the risks, cycling is emphatically good for you.”
And to all those benefits you can now add less chance of catching the flu.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.