Exercise and Sickness
Whether to work out while unwell concerns many exercisers. Although more
research is needed, the general guideline is that if you have symptoms of a
common cold, with no fever and all symptoms above the neck, moderate exercise
such as walking
should be okay. However, if your symptoms include fever, extreme tiredness,
muscle aches or swollen
lymph glands you should refrain from exercise until you get better. When you do
start exercising again, progress slowly and gently. Even if you do have to take
a week or two off because you're feeling under the weather, it really won't make
that much difference to your overall
fitness level if you're
consistent with your program the rest of the time.
Your answer to should you go ahead and exercise -- or roll over and get some
extra sleep? depends on the
fever test and the neck check, says the American College of Sports
Medicine (ACSM). The cutoff point, many doctors say, is 100.5 degrees. Listen to
your body and take it easy
if your body temperature is at or above that mark. The danger of working out
with a fever, the ACSM says, is that you run the risk of kidney ailments,
heatstroke and fluid balance
problems as your
temperature climbs even higher.
If your temperature is normal, but you still feel under the weather, take the
"neck check" to see whether you should exercise. If your symptoms are above your
neck -- sneezing,
stuffy nose and watery eyes -- by all means go ahead with your regular workout,
the ACSM says. But if your symptoms are below the neck -- nausea,
achy muscles and coughing, all indications of the flu -- you're better off
laying low for a couple of days. Your immune system is compromised with the flu,
and if you work out, you won't recover as well because a lot of the
energy in your body
is going to exercise, not recovery.
If you get sick often, why? Is there something you can do about it?
Once you've been exposed to a virus, the likelihood of your getting sick
depends on a number of factors, including advancing age, whether you smoke, high
levels of stress, poor
lack of sleep. Exercisers
frequently report that they experience less sickness than their sedentary peers.
(The American council on Exercise reports that 61 percent of 700 recreational
runners studied had fewer colds after they began running, while only four
percent reported the frequency had increased.) During moderate exercise, various
immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill
bacteria and viruses. So every time you go for a brisk walk your immune system
receives a boost that could increase your chances of fighting off respiratory
Exercise won't guarantee that you won't get sick. In fact, sometimes too much
exercise can put you at greater risk of developing a virus. A high percentage of
marathoners and triathletes get sick immediately after a big event. The theory
is that too much exercise may suppress the immune system and make you more
susceptible to catching viruses.
Tips to avoid sickness
Here are some general tips to reduce your odds of getting sick.
Eat well: The immune system depends on many
minerals and sufficient caloric
intake for optimal functioning. Make sure you consume plenty of
fruits, vegetables and
grain products and drink a minimum of eight glasses of
Get lots of sleep: The American council on Exercise reports that major sleep
disruption (three hours less than normal) has been linked to immune system
Exercise: Include moderate levels of exercise in your weekly schedule to ensure
your immune system receives a regular boost.
Avoid overtraining: Space vigorous workouts and race events as far apart as
possible. Allow for adequate recovery periods and rest days.
Just because you miss a workout or two when you're sick doesn't mean your
fitness level will suffer. Once you pass the neck check and the fever test, you
can be active again -- but listen to your body. Getting back to your routine
will be easier than you think.