Should you work out when you're sick?
Cold and flu season is coming, and just like diet advice, information about what to do is ALL OVER THE MAP!
“Feed a cold, starve a flu, right?”
But wait, a new study says it depends on the cause of the flu. And another study suggests you shouldn’t eat much with certain colds, either. And what about working out? Should you work out when you have a cold? A fever? The flu?
While our general rule is to STAY AWAY FROM THE GYM IF YOU’RE CONTAGIOUS AND HACKING UP A LUNG, here’s some valuable information from Precision Nutrition (http://www.precisionnutrition.com/) on the topic of your immune system and exercise:
Understanding Your Immune System
As you know, when you’re sick, your immune systems kicks into overdrive to fight against whatever’s getting you down. There are two major components to your immune system:
Innate (natural) Immunity (such as physical/structural barriers like mucous, protective cells and chemical barriers, such as stomach acid).
Adaptive (acquired) Immunity (such as specialized white blood cells that acquire the ability to recognize a foreign invader and then mobilize to kill it, and vaccinations you have received to train your body to fight against specific pathogens).
Factors that Affect the Immune System
Exercise (when you’re not sick) can help boost both your innate and adaptive immunity, but only to a point. Exercising too much (i.e. overtraining) can actually lower your immune function, as can being sedentary, so something in the middle is best!
Stress is a huge factor, especially if you’re sick. If you’re already fighting a infection, your immune system will be stressed, so adding more stress is just throwing more fuel on the fire.
Age: Our immune system inevitably breaks down with age. But staying physically fit and eating well can help reduce the breakdown.
Gender: Estrogens are known to enhance immunity, where as androgens suppress it. As a result, women tend to fight colds better than men.
Sleep: As expected, poor sleep = No bueno for the immune system.
Mood: Happy people have healthier immune systems. Bad moods lead to greater inflammation and decreased immune function.
Can you train when you’re sick?
The answer is: It depends. It depends on what’s wrong with you, and the timeline of your illness.
Here’s a helpful guide:
Day 1 of an illness: If you’re feeling a sore throat come on, or a runny or congested nose, don’t do any high intensity working out. If you feel up for it, go for a walk.
If you’re feeling Day 1 of a fever or have the flu, DO NOT workout at all: REST and reassess the next day!
Day 2: If you’re not feeling any worse than you were on Day 1 and are feeling up for it, go ahead and do some light exercise. Just avoid getting your heart rate up too high (above 75% of your max is too high), and don’t spend more than 45 minutes doing anything too taxing. A walk or a light jog, or 20 minutes of rowing or biking is probably as intense as it should get. If you’re feeling worse than day 1, FULL STOP REST!
Day 3: See day 2.
Day 4: If your symptoms have improved, keep the exercise on the lighter side for one more day and plan to return to your normal routine the following day. If your symptoms are worse still, even with full stop rest for 4 days, consider checking in with your doctor.
At the end of the day, As Dr. Bryan Walsh advises, let your symptoms be your guide. Listen to your body.
“If you’re up for a walk or some light cardio, go for it. If you want to do some lighter weight, higher rep stuff just to keep things moving, that’s probably okay, too. But if you want to sit around and watch a ''Married with Children'' marathon, laughter is a great medicine, as well.” - Dr. Walsh
I don’t know about Married with Children, but you get the point. Use your brain. Listen to your body. And don’t show up here with acute symptoms planning to hit it hard and get others around you sick! You will benefit yourself more by resting!