No doubt, exercise can help tone our muscles, give us a chiselled physique and boost our immune system. According to a study from the University of South Carolina, people who engage in moderate-intensity workouts regularly have 20 per cent lesser risk of catching upper respiratory tract infections than those who don’t. However, people often ask whether they should exercise when sick.
The answer is; it depends. While exercise can help boost the immune system which increases our ability to fight infections, exercising when you are under the weather may be appropriate or inappropriate on account of the type of infection and your strength levels.
Experts including David Nieman, Professor, and director of Human Performance Lab at the Appalachian University, says that the location and type of symptoms are crucial to deciding whether to work out or not when you are feeling sick.
The Neck Test
If your symptoms are above the neck such as nasal congestion, sneezing due to a common cold, or a sore throat, you can still do some light or moderate intensity exercises. If you think you even have enough strength to hit the gym, do so but reduce the duration and intensity of your workouts and take longer breaks. You can reduce the weights on the bar, lower your reps, and switch exercises to ensure you don’t overwhelm yourself.
If your symptoms are below the neck such as vomiting and diarrhoea, nausea, shortness of breath, chest tightness, fever, joint pain and others, doctors advise that you leave workouts for rest to allow your body recover its strength.
Symptoms below the neck are indicative of more severe health problems, and you may impair your body’s ability to fight off the problem if you subject it to rigorous physical activities. In fact, exercising in such a condition may worsen your state of health and encourage the development of more health issues.
If you are suffering from flu, cold, stomach symptoms or fever, it’s advisable to rest. Resting will help your immune system to recover to fight off the disease and also reduce the chances of infecting others. Even if you think you have enough strength to workout, consider other people who would be sharing gym equipment with you. If you must work out when sick, you should take extra precautions to avoid exposing others to your infection. Wipe down gym equipment that you come in contact with and have a hand sanitizer with you.
While it can seem unbearable not to work out for days or weeks at a stretch, you won’t be helping yourself by working out in a diseased condition. Rigorous physical activity performed during illness can weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Take time off to rest and allow your body to rejuvenate its energy reserve. You can boost that by taking more nourishing foods to energise your body.
After treating your sickness, don’t jump into your pre-sickness workout routine. Start slow to allow your body to acclimatise itself to the routine and work your way up as your fitness and energy levels increase.
In conclusion, take the neck test to decide whether to work out or not when you are sick. If your symptoms are isolated above the neck such as nasal congestions, sneezing, sinus pressure, earache, or a sore throat, you can do light to moderate intensity workouts if your strength will carry you. But if your symptoms are below the neck such as chest congestion, coughing, vomiting and diarrhoea, fever, muscle ache, fatigue, shortness of breath, stomach aches, and so on, it’s better to skip your workouts to rest your body and allow your immune system work on combating the ailment. If you must work out when sick, ensure not to put others in danger of contracting your sickness. Also, ease into your workout gradually after treating your illness.