Is it a Good Idea to Work Out When Sick?

Being a fitness buff has its benefits. Sure, it’s good to be committed to your workout regimen. However, you should also know when to stop.

While exercising does strengthen the immune system, and helps fight off sickness, many doctors won’t advise you to exercise when you are under the weather. Sometimes, you are better off hanging your jockstraps and sitting it out.

But there are exceptions to certain levels of un-wellness. In fact, breaking a sweat can bring you some relief. But it is important to know when it is okay to be up and about, and when it’s not.

As a guide, this can help.

A light exercise is fine if you have the following light symptoms:

  • Sore throat
    Ear ache
    Stuffy nose

DO NOT try any exercises if you have these symptoms:

  • Headaches
    Muscle aches
    Coughing or wheezing

There is a defining pattern here, if your symptoms are above the neck or centred around the face, exercise may be permissible. But if it is below the neck or a headache, you should stay at home or better, see a doctor.

However, there is a difference between a light exercise and a workout. Even if your symptoms are above the neck, there are limits to what you can do.

What type of exercise is okay?

If your discomfort is as mild as a stuffy nose or a sore throat, you may go ahead with your regular routine. You will feel a lot better when you sweat. Sometimes, jogging clears a stuffing nose. However, if you have a rigorous workout routine and can’t manage it, but feel like doing something worthwhile, go for a short walk instead.

Muscle stretching and flexing exercise like yoga is a great substitute for strenuous exercise. By reducing the intensity of your exercise, your respiratory pathway is calm and your immune systems is not unduly stressed out. Other good ideas including cycling, gardening and Tai Chi.

If you start feeling worse off in the first few minutes, stop all exercise and wait until you heal completely.

Should you go to the gym?

This is not advisable. The gym is a haven for all kinds of germs, going there can exacerbate the situation. Worse, because your immune system is weak, you may be susceptible to other strains of germs. If you feel your situation is not so bad and you go to the gym, be considerate of other users.

Ensure you wash your hands thoroughly before handling any equipment. And if you use the equipment such as the treadmill, wipe down the handle-bars with a sanitised towel to prevent infecting yourself further.

For this reason, it is good to have your home workout machines. The BH Fitness SK8900 Treadmill or the budget-friendly Precor TRM 731 treadmill are ideal for home exercising.

How exercise affects the immune system

Exercise does have a role to play in our innate and adaptive immune response.

After a prolonged session of vigorous exercise, our body is more vulnerable to infection. For example, when you finish running a marathon, the adaptive immune system is temporarily depressed for up to 72 hours. This explains the reason many long-distance runner fall ill after a race.

On other hand, a brief session of high intensity workout doesn’t have the same immune depressing effect. In fact, a moderately intense session can enhance the immune system in healthy adults.

It is equally interesting to note that chronic resistance training appears to invigorate innate (but not adaptive) immunity. However, the adaptive immune system can be boosted by moderate exercise.

Physical fitness experts have identified a pattern:

  • Over time, consistent, moderate exercise and resistance training bolsters the immune system. So, it is ideal to exercise properly while you are healthy.
  • Conversely, a single burst of rigorous or prolonged exercise sessions can affect immune functions. It is thus advisable to pipe it down when you are ill.

More on exercise, stress and the role of the immune system

Some scientists carried out a research on the exercise habits and influenza, and came up with the following conclusions:

  • People who don’t exercise at all are prone to fall sick regularly.
  • People who worked out between once in a month and 3 times a week to had the best health.
  • People who exercised more than 4 times a week often fell ill.

Simply put, being inactive or working out too much can reduce your immune levels. But treading somewhere in the middle keeps you in great condition.

Which category do you fall into? Talk to you physiologist for more about ‘sick exercising’.