At present we have a fair amount of winter viruses around and the question I am being asked is “Should I exercise when I am sick?” and/or “How long after an illness should I begin exercising?”
I answer this according to the person, their fitness level, how long they have they been exercising before the illness and how many times per week they currently exercise and naturally what is the illness.
The main area of concern is how exercise would affect the health of the person e.g would the symptoms worsen and other complications arise or would exercising in fact delay recovery. Strenuous exercise might make the symptoms worse and even increase the severity of the illness.
There is a general rule of thumb that can be the guide and that is; if the symptoms are above the neck such as a head cold, runny, stuffy nose or sore throat then it is considered O.K to exercise moderately. It is not the time to begin an exercise program if the person is unfit, but a person who is regularly exercising at an average of 3 sessions per week could safely continue moderate activity if there is no fever. Moderate is definitely to be moderate such as walking rather than running and low impact rather than high impact. The often held view that exercise can help beat a cold has no medical support. In fact ignoring symptoms and training hard can sometimes make the symptoms worse. On the other hand moderate exercise can help relieve the nasal congestion of a cold expelling mucous and boosting immunity by increasing circulation which can move the disease fighting cells more quickly around the body. It is important to listen to your body.
If there is a fever or chest congestion and joint or muscle soreness, vomiting, diarrhoea or swollen glands it is more than likely that it is much worse than a cold. Exercising is definitely not recommended until these symptoms subside and the fever has gone. Rest is important.
The other factor to consider also if a person has an infection and is required to play a team sport that the muscular/skeletal performance can be impaired and for example a player has a gastrointestinal infection then fluid intake would be impaired and this can stress the circulatory system and effect endurance, which also means that the whole team’s performance could be affected as well as passing on the infection to other team members.
Once you have recovered from an infection or illness such as a cold or fever it is best to ease slowly back into exercise rather then trying to make up for lost time. It can happen that if exercising after an illness is too intense then the illness could reoccur, as the immune system cannot cope with the demands that exercising puts on the body.
Start back slowly and gradually increase the intensity until you are feeling strong again.
Listening to your body, training regularly and enjoying your training without overtraining, especially when you are unwell is the key to a successful training program and keeping yourself fit and healthy.
Do you exercise? If so, how often?