Exercising when sick? If you can, you should!

Exercising when sick?

This global climate has meant people are super conscious and considerate of others, especially if you have the flu. In this particular article, we’re focusing on colds and not the flu, but we are going to discuss the difference between the two.

Some sicknesses mean we can’t get out of bed at all, and your body is trying to rest and recover. But if you have some energy, it’s helpful to get out and get moving. Humans were born to move, and bed rest can sometimes hinder you more, especially if it’s a little sniffle or you’re feeling a little run down.

Please note: if you are sick, stay away from gyms and enclosed spaces where you are likely to infect others.

What is your immune system?

Your innate (natural) immune system is the first line of defence against a cold or bug. It includes physical barriers (such as the mucous lining in your nose), chemical barriers (stomach acids) and your protective cells (such as white blood cells). This innate immune system developed while you were younger.

And then there’s your other immune system, your adaptive (acquired) immune system. This is a sophisticated system containing specialised cells, and kicks in when your innate immune system is overwhelmed. These specialised white blood cells have a ‘memory’ and learn to fight a pathogen efficiently and effectively.


Source: Kelly Sikkema

But, why exercise?

Physical activity is essential for your body. Moving your body when you are sick can actually help you fight the cold, and promote immunity by boosting your body’s natural reserves. Let your symptoms be the guide in these moments. For example, if you are up for a light walk or jog, then you should go for it! Adopting a total-rest strategy is counterproductive; the key factors are intensity and volume. Exercise is also great for getting you out of the house when you may feel closed up and shut-in, providing you with an endorphin rush.

There is a vast difference between ‘working out’ and ‘moving the physical body’. A structured work out can cause a stress response on the body, such as breathing heavily, sweating, and feeling discomfort. When you’re sick, the stress of this work out can prove to be too much for your immune system, and overwhelm it. If you are injured, chat to your doctor or physio to see what exercises you should do to maintain your rehabilitation.

Do the neck test.

Another handy rule of thumb is the neck test, where do your symptoms lie? Are your symptoms above the neck? Then it’s probably okay to get up and get out, even for a walk. An above the neck symptom would include a sore throat, nasal congestion, or teary eyes. These are classic ‘cold’ symptoms, and you should be able to go for a walk or a run. But, if you’re feeling sick below the neck with any of the following symptoms coughing, body aches, fever, or fatigue, then stay at home.

What exercises to do?

We vote you should avoid exercises and activities that are strenuous on the body, such as heavy strength training, sprinting, or high-intensity interval training. Your white blood cells need as much ability as they can to help your immune system, not heal your muscles. We recommend you should do low impact activities, such as walking, jogging, yoga, or even gardening. This gives you the time to rest, recover and boost your immune system. You don’t need to push it too hard, as these exercises aren’t too tough on your body. They don’t create stress or immune-compromising impacts, so can actually help you feel better and recover more quickly.


Source: Hiu Yan Chelsia Choi

How different exercises can impact your immune system.

Now we know we should do some form of physical activity, let’s discuss exercising to prevent sickness.

Prolonged and vigorous exercise can mean we’re more open to infections and viruses for up to 72 hours after one workout, as it can depress your adaptive immune system. Marathon runners often get sick after their races for this reason!
One brief and vigorous exercise session won’t cause the same immunosuppressing effects, so it is a good idea to mix it up with moderate intensity workouts.
Consistent resistance training and moderate intensity workouts can improve the adaptive and innate immune systems.

Balance is key

Balance is key, and so is listening to your body. If you are feeling so fatigued you can barely lift your legs, let alone go for a walk, it’s best to stay in bed and rest up. But if you feel like you can get up and get out, it’s a good idea you do it! Forcing yourself to exercise hard may only hinder your recovery time, and will exhaust you and overwhelm your immune system. When it comes to physical activity, a good rule of thumb is to get your body out and moving for at least 20-30 minutes a day.

About us

Here at ECP Health we focus on holistic health and wellness to keep you living a long and healthy life. We want to ensure that our clients get the best recovery possible. ECP Health works well with injuries and compliments physiotherapy and rehabilitation programs so come and chat to us today to get a programme that works for you.

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