Rules for Exercising When You're Sick

When you’re sick should you keep exercising, or should you rest and let your body recover?  You may have heard that one or the other is preferable, but here is what you need to know about exercising when you’re under the weather.

Immunity

When a foreign body attacks, your immune system comes to the rescue. The natural immunities you have include physical barriers such as mucous membranes in the nose, chemical barriers like stomach acid and protective cells like white blood cells help to protect you from invaders.  You also have acquired immunities where white blood cells “memorize” what invaders have come before and therefore fight against them more effectively. 

Every day you are exposed to bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that can cause illness. The most common invaders will cause colds, the flu, ear infections, sinusitis, coughs and throat infections.

How Exercise Impacts the Immune System

One-time exercises can be ok, but it depends on how long you work out for and how hard you push it.  Brief but vigorous exercise that lasts 5-10 minutes will not suppress your immune system.  Moderate intensity exercises lasting up to 50 minutes can actually boost your immunity.  Prolonged, vigorous exercise lasting more than an hour can depress the immune system.

Should You Exercise?

You need to let your symptoms be your guide.  If you have a runny nose and sore throat, low intensity to moderate intensity exercise should be fine.  If you’re having symptoms such as muscle pain, headache, fever, malaise, diarrhea or vomiting then rest is the best way to go. 

Activities to Consider When Sick

Low to moderate intensity exercises include walking, jogging, swimming, biking, T’ai chi and yoga.  The activities you will want to avoid are heavy strength training, endurance training, high intensity intervals, sprinting, team sports or exercise in extreme temperatures.

Other Factors

There are some other things you should consider besides exercise in order to keep your immune system in tip top shape.  Stress can have a huge impact on your health.  If you’re sick and fighting an infection adding more stress, such as prolonged vigorous exercise, you will only take longer to recover. Also making sure that you get enough sleep is another way to keep your immune system chugging along.  Poor quality sleep or sleep deprivation will only jeopardize immune function.

The bottom line is that in the long run having an active lifestyle where moderate exercise is practiced most days of the week along with a nutritious diet will only improve your immune system.  So, be proactive against illness and get active!

 

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Colin Kirkwood