Sidestep cold and flu season, step your way to a stronger brain and embrace the most effective way to battle depression. This latest roundup of research reveals how …

Ease off the exercise intensity and you could sidestep a cold

Regular exercise can support your immune system and studies have highlighted how people who train regularly have a lower risk of acute respiratory infections. But in some cases, doubling down on intense exercise could have the reverse effect – and a new study has revealed why. Working with a team of fit firefighters, researchers completed a series of tests and found an intense exercise session triggers a short-term suppression of the immune system. Saliva samples taken after the workout showed fewer proinflammatory cytokines and ceramides, and more antimicrobial peptides. The scientists said the reduction of proinflammatory molecules on patrol is what can leave the body more vulnerable to infection (and the lift in antimicrobial peptides could be the body’s way of compensating for the diminished immune function). The researchers also noted that people tend to breathe through their mouths when they train at high intensity. This bypasses the nasal barriers and as a result, virus microbes can more easily penetrate and deposit in the distal airways of the lungs. So, if you’re keen to lessen the risk of infection during flu season, dialing back on your exercise intensity could be a smart short-term move.

A depression and anxiety treatment that’s 1.5 times more effective than counseling or medication

When it comes to taking action to improve your mental health, exercise is proving hard to beat. Australian researchers have linked physical activity to a 43% reduction in mental health symptoms and found exercise to be 50% more effective than counseling or medication for managing depression. These findings come after researchers analyzed data from 97 reviews, 1,039 trials and 128,119 participants. During the process, they also identified that it doesn’t take long for the mental health perks of movement to kick in – less than 12 weeks. Higher-intensity exercise was linked to greater improvements in symptoms, resistance exercise seems to be particularly beneficial for helping ease depression, and yoga and other mind–body exercises associated with reduced anxiety.

4,000 steps towards a stronger brain

Scientists have long recognized the brain-boosting powers of exercise and now a team of researchers have unearthed just how small a dose it takes to spark better brain strength. The researchers analyzed more than 10,000 brain scans and found a very clear pattern. People who played sports – or regularly ran or walked – tended to have brains with larger volumes of gray matter (which plays an important role in processing incoming information). They also had a greater volume of white matter (which is key to connecting different parts of the brain and crucial to memory). Most interesting, was how little exercise was needed to make an impact. Just 4,000 steps a day, can have a positive effect on brain health, said study co-author Dr. David Merill from the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. Far less than the often-suggested 10,000 steps.