There are always things that crop up to prevent us getting our daily exercise. But what happens when you are sick or injured? Does exercise prevent you from getting sick? Should you exercise with a cold? What if you are nauseous or just feeling a little under the weather? Here we give you the fast facts about when you should and shouldn’t exercise.
Does exercise prevent illness?
Exercise and physical activities are important in order to stay healthy and prevent chronic illness. Regular exercise allows you to improve your overall fitness, which can help to boost your immune system — the body’s defense against infections.
Not only does regular exercise help prevent long-term chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers, but it also appears to have the advantage of being able to jump-start the immune system, which may help reduce the number of colds you get. With exercise, the number and aggressiveness of certain immune cells can increase by as much as 50 to 300 per cent. If you exercise regularly, this temporary increase can help make the immune system more efficient at destroying intruders that cause illness such as colds.
Should I exercise if I have a cold or flu?
Because exercise may help to boost immune function, it’s usually safe to exercise with a cold — but you should take it easier than usual. However, you do need to listen to your body. If you really don’t feel up to it, then don’t. Sometimes cold medications such as decongestants can increase your heart rate. In addition, your heart rate is increased with exercise. The combination of exercise and decongestants can cause your heart to pump very hard which may cause you to become short of breath and have difficulty breathing.
If you have a fever with a cold, exercise may stress your body even more. That’s why it’s important to wait a few days to get back to your regular exercise regimen. Working out too hard with a cold could stress your body, causing you to feel worse. This additional stress may hinder your recovery. While mild exercise can help boost your immune system, you may want to be gentle on yourself if you already have the flu. That’s when it’s time to listen to your body, and give it time to recover.
The bottom line? Listen to your body. Rest it when it needs rest and allow your body a chance to adjust to the stress of illness. Your immune system functions best when it is not stressed or in overdrive.
What about other illnesses?
Generally speaking, if your body is under stress and not functioning correctly due to illness, then you are better to let your body rest and recover properly. This is particularly the case with illnesses such as gastro —where you have probably been dehydrated and not able to nourish your body correctly.
When you are unwell, your immune system is already under pressure to combat illness. Exercising only places additional stress on the body, which can prolong or exacerbate your condition. The best thing you can do for yourself when you’re sick is take a day off work, eat lots of fresh food, read a good book, and relax! Once you’ve recovered you’ll be more mentally alert and able to put twice as much into your training!
As a rule of thumb for exercise and illness:
- Proceed with your workout if your signs and symptoms are ‘above the neck’ — such as runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or sore throat. Be prepared to reduce the intensity of your workout if needed, however.
- Postpone your workout if your signs and symptoms are ‘below the neck’ — such as chest congestion, hacking cough or upset stomach. Likewise, don’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.
If you choose to exercise when you’re sick, listen to your body. If your signs and symptoms get worse with physical activity, stop and rest. Resume your workout routine gradually as you begin to feel better.
What about injuries?
Obviously it depends where your injury is located and the severity of it, as to whether you can or should exercise. For example, if you have broken your foot and you are getting around on crutches, then it’s probably not a good idea to do much exercise at all. You are probably going to get a good arm workout using the crutches anyway, and in the case of broken bones, you want them to heal, rather than put them at risk of any further injury.
If you have experienced a sprain or a strain, however, there may be other activities that you could try. Swimming can be a great alternative, as can using other parts of the body (i.e. focus on upper body strengthening if you have a lower body injury and vice versa). However, speak to your health care provider to ensure that any activity you plan to undertake is not going to worsen your condition or put you at risk of injuring another part of your body.
Staying on track
While it can be frustrating not being able to exercise — particularly if you are trying to lose weight, use this time off to focus on the other part of the equation — your diet.
It has been said that exercise is only 10-15 per cent of the weight loss equation. What you put in your mouth has the most impact on your weight, so take the opportunity to check you are getting your daily recommended intake of protein, fruit, veggies, carbohydrates and good fats. Check your portions have not increased and be vigilant. Remember, that if you are not exercising, you will not have the opportunity to burn off any excess kilojoules consumed!
Above all else, be kind to yourself. Accept that you are unwell or injured and that your exercise plan is on hold for a while, and focus on recovery. That way, you are less likely to experience a relapse and even more time on the sidelines.
Resource: Healthlogix – Australian Corporate Wellness online www.australiancorporatewellness.com.au