Herpes is a very common disease. According to the International Herpes Resource Center, upwards of 50 percent to 80 percent of North Americans have Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 or Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2. Both forms of the disease cause painful sores during outbreaks, with HSV-1 responsible for cold sores in the mouth area and HSV-2 causing lesions in the genital area. Fortunately, getting regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help prevent herpes outbreaks by reducing stress and bolstering the immune system.
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If you have herpes, you can and should exercise often. Emotional stress may trigger herpes outbreaks, and virtually all types of exercise help relieve stress. Exercise reduces stress by triggering your brain to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins, reducing physical tension, combating mild depression and anxiety, and helping you sleep. Types of exercise that combine exercise and meditation, such as yoga and tai chi, may be especially effective at reducing stress.
Getting regular physical activity also helps prevent herpes outbreaks by enhancing the immune system's ability to fight the disease. However, the intensity of the exercise must be moderate to achieve this effect. According to an article published in "Amino Acids," regular moderate-intensity exercise enhances the immune system and helps in the treatment of many chronic diseases, while strenuous, exhaustive exercise actually suppresses the immune system to some extent. Therefore, lighter exercise -- such as walking briskly or doing yoga -- may prevent herpes outbreaks, while vigorous activities -- such as running or swimming laps for lengthy periods of time -- may trigger outbreaks.
Although moderate exercise is good for herpes, people with HSV-1 should always protect their lips from sun and dry air when exercising outdoors. A survey conducted by the U.S. Army examined the number of herpes outbreaks among army personnel with HSV-1 who participated in a four-week outdoor exercise training program in hot weather. Results showed that outbreaks, often in conjunction with chapped lips, were prevalent by the third week of the program. However, subjects who used lip protectants were less likely to experience a herpes flare-up during the training. The survey results strongly support the use of lip protectants to protect against outbreaks when exercising with herpes outdoors.
Other Preventative Measures
Besides exercising moderately and protecting your lips when outdoors, other lifestyle measures can help prevent herpes outbreaks, including getting enough sleep and following a healthy diet. Avoiding alcohol, which, like stress, suppresses the immune system, may also offer some protection against herpes outbreaks. In addition, taking anti-viral medications can help prevent outbreaks or treat them early.
You can perform light exercise during a herpes outbreak although it is important to drink plenty of water and rest when you feel tired. It is also important to keep the sores clean and dry, and to wear loose, cotton underwear and clothing when exercising to prevent chafing. Taking frequent warm or cool baths may also help ease discomfort during an outbreak. The Center for Young Women's Health at the Children's Hospital Boston recommends talking to your doctor about medication if you have severe or frequent outbreaks.