Sick Workout!

If you have been exercising and working out for while, you would have faced this conundrum: should you go to the gym when sick? There isn’t a cut and dry answer but in this article I will be exploring the facts and give you some pointers that, I hope will clear the confusion.

The Immune System
If we are to understand how the body reacts to additional stress (working out) while already being under stress (illness), it is necessary to talk about the immune system.
Most common colds, tonsillitis, throat infections, coughs, influenza and middle ear infections are upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). Exercise plays a major factor in contracting these URTIs. The body is more susceptible to a virus or bacteria after a long prolonged or single high intensity bout of exercise. For example, you may have heard of a friend who has just finished running a marathon, catching a cold a day or two later. This is due to the fact that exercise of such magnitude puts the body under a lot of stress both physically and psychologically, which suppresses the immune system.
Exercise habits can also cause you to become sick. A group of scientists found a correlation between those who never exercised and exercised more than four times a week got sick the most. While those who exercised three times a week did the best. So in simple terms, being sedentary or doing too much exercise can lower immunity.



Sickness, stress and exercise
As we have established that exercise puts some stress on the body, which can be coped by an uninfected immune system and healthy body. But what happens when you participate in vigorous exercise in a sickly state. Well the answer is pretty obvious; you will get sicker and take longer to recover. Also returning to activity too soon from an illness can potential allow new virus or bacteria to take hold, again kicking off a sickness. Falling sick often may also be a sign of overtraining

Soldier on or take some time off?
Most physicians and doctors recommend the ‘above the neck’ rule. According to this if you are experiencing symptoms that are above your neck, such as stuffy nose, sneezing or an earache, you are probably ok to engage in exercise. On the other hand if the symptoms originate below the neck like nausea, body aches, chills or fever, diarrhoea, chest congestion or productive cough (coughing up phlegm), you may want to skip the workout and rest.



Type of exercise
Intensity and type of exercise is key when it comes to keeping you on track when sick. Your best bet are low intensity activities like walking, jogging, biking, Yoga which keeps your heart rate low and are not overly strenuous. These can be done outdoors or at home.
High intensity activities like heavy strength training, HIIT, team sports or sprint and power training should be avoided.
It is also important to ease into your normal workout schedule after a period of illness. So start slow and then progress to higher intensity and tougher workouts.

As a general rule let your symptoms be your guide. You know your body better than anybody else, so if you do feel a bit under the weather take some time off, rest and start afresh. While it is understandable to worry about losing your gains, most studies show that muscle loss begins after approximately three weeks without training whereas strength starts to decline around the 10-day mark and endurance after about 14 days. It also courteous to not go to the gym in a sickly state and use the equipment, as there is a likelihood of passing on germs and infecting fellow gym goers.

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