Health - Should I train when I am sick?
At what point do you need to listen to your body and give it a chance to get better? A common question that I hear from people is, ‘Can I exercise when sick? Is it bad or will it help me get better sooner?’
As words, sickness or illness can cover many types of ailments or conditions, so my focus here will be on common colds and flus as we enter the ‘flu season’, which is generally considered to be from May to the end of winter. The medical community broadly class these colds and flus as Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, or URTI.
Smiling faces of happy sailors. To be out on the water you need to look after your body - pic © Kylie Wilson/Positive Image.
If you have a more serious illness, you should definitely not exercise and focus on recuperation. When illness debilitates you, the body needs to use it strength and resources to fight off infection and always seek clearance from your doctor before recommencing your exercise program.
If the ailment is less serious (i.e. a cold or flu), which means the symptoms and effects are unpleasant but not debilitating, then you may do some exercise. There is not a great deal of research on this topic and every person and virus can be different, but a common ‘rule of thumb’ in general use, is the neck check - and that is:
Above neck symptoms only - free to exercise (use the guidelines below) these symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, sore throats, and mild headaches.
If below neck symptoms are present – swollen glands, fever, chest cough, muscle and joint aches all on the trunk and limbs, then it’s best not to exercise.
In general, the research says that light exercise with cold can make you feel better and not do any extra damage. The thinking here, is that light exercise clears airways, enhances circulation and this can speed the healing process via the delivery of good nutrients that are contained in your blood stream. There is every chance it may elevate your mood, as well.
Moderate exercise can boost immune system, and this can be a benefit in both the immediate and longer term.
So what is the key?
Back off the intensity, but be active (walking may be a good option) and there may be physical benefits, but keep the intensity low to keep the heart rate down (as a guide, it should be under 120bpm).
Maintaining immune health from the Exercise Immunology Review. EIR is the official publication and Position Statement of the International Society of Exercise and Immunology.
Practical guidelines for you to prevent infections:
Guidelines for exercising when sick:
If symptoms (fever, headaches, stiffness/soreness and/or excessive fatigue) were severe and you ceased training for a period:
Always happy! - pic © Kylie Wilson/Positive Image.