We are in the midst of the cold and flu season, and inevitably you are bound to catch something. So what do you do about your exercise routine? Do you keep up with your current workout plan and try to sweat it out, or do you take it easy and get some rest? I have clients ask me this all the time. So what is the appropriate protocol for when you are feeling under the weather?
Let’s review some basics. Every day you are exposed to bacteria, parasites, and viruses that your immune system is working around the clock to protect you from. When you are born you have an innate immune system already in place which is your first line of defense against foreign invaders, think of your stomach acid, mucous in your nose, and your ‘NK’ cells. Then there is the adaptive immune system that is made up of more complex specialized cells and processes, this is your second line of defense. The adaptive immune system helps us fight infections by preventing pathogens from colonizing and by destroying microorganisms like viruses and bacteria. It has a “memory” that builds over time and when exposed to repeat invaders it can go into action right away. This is the concept of strengthening your immune system, and the reason for why kids get sick so often since their system is not mature yet.
Now that we covered the basics, when is it appropriate to exercise?
This really depends on the type of sickness you are experiencing. If it is a head cold (cough, congestion, running nose, sore throat) then light to medium exercise is okay. So that would be walking, biking, light jogging, swimming, yoga, t’ai chi, or some light weight training. These have all been proven to help speed recovery. If you are coughing and sneezing all over the place, I would strongly encourage you to workout at home or outdoors and do not bring your germs to the gym for others to get exposed to. On the flipside, I would discourage any high intensity workouts like intervals, sprints, heavy weight training, or endurance activities lasting more than 1.5 hours. These activities will create a stress response in the body. This is fine when you are 100% healthy because your body can easily adapt but if your body is fighting off an infection it will only worsen your symptoms and extend your total sick time.
Now let’s say you have a fever, your vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, have a headache or muscle ache then exercise of any kind is not recommended. You get a pass to sleep it off, watch I Love Lucy re-runs, and just take it easy. If you try to push through exercise of any kind you are just going to make symptoms worse.
If you follow the above guidelines, eat a healthy diet, get some rest, and take some immune boosting supplements you should see symptoms improve in a matter of a few days. A good rule of thumb is to allow a period of time to ease back into your routine in proportion to the length of your sickness. So if you were sick for 3 days, then take 3 days to ease back in.
To prevent future infections always make sure to get plenty of rest, wash your hands regularly, exercise moderately 3-5 days per week, and eat a well-balanced healthy diet to keep your immune system strong and ready.