Should you exercise while you’re sick?
When you’re sick, few things sound less appealing than hitting the gym. However, some research shows that light or moderate physical activity might be exactly what you need to lessen your symptoms and fast-track your recovery.
Fit people tend to recover from illnesses faster and have milder symptoms than people who don’t exercise regularly. However, in some cases, putting your body under additional stress and making it work hard might be a bad idea. The key is listening to your body to know when working out will benefit you, and when it will make you feel worse.
Should you try to work out while sick?
How can you know when a workout might help you feel better faster? Refer to the “neck rule.” If your symptoms are above the neck — sneezing, teary eyes, sinus pressure, dry cough, stuffy or runny nose — then working out is safe and potentially beneficial. If you do decide to work out and feel worse afterward, cut back on the intensity of your workout or take a few days off before trying again.
If your symptoms are below the neck — chest congestion, muscle aches, fever, coughing, fatigue, upset stomach — you need to rest and stay away from the gym, since you’re probably contagious for the first five to seven days of your illness. Plus, if you exercise with a fever, you could raise your internal body temperature even more and risk getting even sicker. Rest will allow your immune system to recover, and taking over-the-counter cold or flu medicines will be more beneficial than exercise.
How long should you wait to return to the gym?
Knowing when to resume activity after being sick is a personal decision. An uncomplicated cold usually lasts between a week and 10 days in adults, but you might need even longer than that to recover. If you’re coming back after the flu, you may need as many as two or three weeks to get back in the game.
Remember to slowly get back into working out by starting at 75 percent of the intensity and length of your normal workouts and gradually increasing it for a week or so until you’re back where you left off. If you try to do too much too soon, you could prolong your recovery phase.
Preventing illness with exercise
Remember that exercise is one of your greatest assets when it comes to preventing illness in the first place. Exercise can help boost your body’s natural defenses against illness and infection. About half an hour of regular exercise three to four times a week can strengthen your body’s immunity to illness by raising your levels of T cells, which are one of the body’s first defenses against infection.
But remember, it’s all about balance. Intense, 90-minute training sessions like those done by professional or elite athletes can actually lower your immunity.
The best workouts to help you feel better fast
When it comes to working out while sick, some options are better than others. Here are a few great types of exercise to try when you’re experiencing a mild “above the neck” illness:
Even if you can only get outside for a 20-minute walk, you’ll reap the benefits of regular exercise and could see improvement of your cold symptoms. Walking will stimulate you to take deep breaths and open up your nasal passages. Studies have also shown that people who walk regularly tend to get sick less.
Running can help you feel better when you’re sick, since it’s a natural decongestant that can help clear your head and make you feel healthy again. If you’re not feeling up to the intensity of your normal run, scale it back. Make sure you don’t engage in endurance running, since too much high-intensity exercise can have the opposite effect on your body.
When you’re sick, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Research shows that engaging in stress-relieving techniques like yoga and breathing exercises can boost immunity. Plus, gentle stretching can help relieve the aches and pains linked to colds and sinus infections. Even chants like “om” can open up clogged sinus passages.
You don’t have to go to a cardio dance class to reap the health benefits of dance. Even if you’re just rocking out to your favorite tunes at home, dancing can reduce stress. One study even shows that people who listened to 50 minutes of dance music had less cortisol and more cold-fighting antibodies, which likely boosted their immune systems. Dance is an ideal workout for when you’re not feeling too hot, since it’s low-impact and allows you to break a sweat without putting too much stress on your body.
Biking and swimming
These exercises are hit or miss, since they make some people feel better, and make some people feel worse. Swimming can be refreshing and can help open up your airways, making it easier for you to breathe. It’s also low impact and can wash away pollen and dust, a benefit for anyone suffering from allergies. However, some find it difficult to breathe while congested, and that condition can be aggravated by chlorinated waters.
Biking is also a nice, low-impact, moderate exercise, but it can dry out your nasal passages and make some symptoms, like a sore throat or a runny nose, worse.
Don’t spread your symptoms
Always remember to follow gym etiquette when exercising with a cold. Refrain from blowing your nose or coughing excessively, and use a towel to wipe down every surface you touch and wipe down any machines you use when you’re done. Make sure to wash your hands before and after going to the gym. It also couldn’t hurt to carry some hand sanitizer in your gym bag.
Learn more about exercising your way to health
If you want to learn more about the best exercises for you, schedule an evaluation with Onward Orthopedics today by submitting an online form or calling one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.