Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

exercise when you're sick 

This winter and spring I’ve gotten this question quite a bit. I’m feeling as if I’ve done far too much research on the topic this cold and flu season for my tastes. As it is I have suspicions that a little mold and stress around the home front has contributed to my 3rd bout of sick in about 8 weeks!

Here’s the low down on whether or not to exercise when you’re sick.

“Moderate exercise has no effect on the duration or severity of the common cold.”

That came out of a study done at Ball State University. Researchers concluded that if you’re symptoms are neck up – things like sinus and nasal congestion, sore throat – exercise neither helps or hurts.

But wait a minute.

Have I influenced you enough yet? Are you asking whether that’s research that was done on peri-menopausal, menopause, or post-menopausal women? Who tend to do too much and push and push until they drop?

Well, it wasn’t. It was on male subjects average age 29.

Still, there may still be some truth to the fact that moderate- I repeat, moderate– exercise can be helpful if you just have a cold.

What works when you’re well doesn’t when you’re sick

You may do well with short HIIT when you’re well. That isn’t necessarily what will help you get well though. It’s only moderate exercise-induced that increases in stress hormones reduce excess local inflammation. In doing that you may improve your recovery from a viral infection.

Very intense exercise, including prolonged exercise, on the other hand – like HIIT or marathon running – can briefly suppress immune function. Marathon running, by the way is relative. If it feels long for you, then it’s too much.

Trying to do your long slow routine or your HIIT workout sick is more likely to prolong your illness and or weaken your immune system further. If you’re frequently sick – or injured for that matter – and you’ve been exercising a lot or increased significantly, you may have evidence you’re doing more than your body can handle.

Other rules for exercise when you’re sick

Definitely if you have the flu or fever or congestion in your chest, exercise is a bad idea. So you can let go of that guilt or thinking that you’re getting “behind” if you miss a workout.

Essentially, your body isdoing a workout. It needs to be able to dedicate all systems to that. Your immune system is working overtime to fight the infection. That is physical enough stress.

Should you sweat it out when you’re sick?

Some have the idea that they should sweat it out. Not so much. Not with exercise, nor with the sauna. A small shot of increased body temperature can help get you over a common cold but more than that could lay you flat again.

For women in midlife, already more susceptible to the negative effects of stress, exercise while sick can lead to chronic or adrenal fatigue. That kind of long-term damage lasts months or years.

If you feel weak, muscles ache, or have a fever it’s time to rest and give your body a chance to fight the infection.

Definitely not exercising can be a hard pill to swallow for some. Try to reconcile that as much as your mind may want to your body may really not have that much interest.

Exercise After You’ve Been Sick

Once you are a week past fever and chills be smart. Don’t resume where you left off.

You want to ease back into it with walks, and progress to moderate workouts. Test yourself. Know that though it may be good to do a little, your endorphins may take over and inspire you to do so much you’ll regret it.

Getting some fresh air and daily walks can be good to boost your mood and get your strength back even while you’re not fully back to yourself. Just be easy on your personal expectations!

What might help speed your recovery is Vitamin C. One study showed that even in subjects already taking a supplement, therapeutic doses at the onset of a cold, chills, and achy muscles helps the body resist inflammation and it’s also hormone regulating. Doses of 4  – 8 grams were used during the first days of illness in the studies. Increase your dose carefully.

Don’t Be That Girl

“I don’t know if I should really be here or not.” 

Said the middle aged woman checking in a Planet Fitness when I was traveling last week. Bless the young staff woman behind the desk that said what we were all thinking, “Don’t make me sick.” Exactly! If you wonder, stay home. At the least do damage to just you. Don’t spread it around.

This is just a how-to-make-friends and prevent-enemies tip. No one wants to be next to someone coughing, or endlessly blowing her nose at the gym. Then holding the same weights or the same elliptical. No thanks. So while you may feel ready for a sweat session, no one around you is ready to get their sneeze on.

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