Some of us get sick more often than others however we all get sick from time to time. What should we do when we are sick? Should we exercise when ill or not?
Is it better to sweat it out? Or is you should rest instead?
Well, I used to ask myself these same questions. I had to find out what’s best. In this post, I am reporting it to you in a simplified way, so next time you get sick with the flu or a cold, you’ll know what to do and also why.
We all have experienced, while in the gym, warmed up and ready for a fantastic workout, Mr Sneezy walks by. Sniffling, coughing and spraying all over the equipment his germs.
You think. Shouldn’t you just stay home and rest?
And, stop sharing those nasty germs!
However, he could be trying to sweat the sickness out of his system and boost his immune system too.
What’s the right answer?
The immune system intro.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites get in contact with us in everyday life.
The most common are upper respiratory tract invaders. Commonly
throat infections, and
Our immune system, when faced with this attack, works hard to defend us. Without the immune system, we’d never be healthy in our lives.
Our immune cells interact with invaders through the lymph nodes, the spleen, and mucous membranes.
Therefore they first make contact in your mouth, gut, lungs, and urinary tract.
The innate and adaptive immune response
Our innate (natural) immune system is our first line of defence.
physical/structural barriers, like the mucous lining in nasal passages,
Our stomach acids, are chemical barriers,
Also, protective cells that destroy harmful invaders
This type of immune system develops in the early years.
Then there’s the adaptive (acquired) immune system.
This is definate, a more sophisticated immune system composed of highly specialised cells and processes. When the innate immune system struggles, it kicks in.
The adaptive immune system helps us to fight infections by destroying microorganisms like viruses and bacteria.
There are some specialised white cells, T and B, that have a kind of memory.
Their memory makes them super efficient. These cells, recognise the illness and mobilise to fight it.
This is what we mean with “building immunity.”
Children get sick with viruses more often than adults. Ever wondered why? The reason is they haven’t had as much exposure, so still have less mature adaptive immune systems.
The basis for vaccination is this acquired immune response. Put into your body a tiny dose of a pathogen, and when confronted with a bigger dose, it will know what to do.
Should you exercise while sick?
One thing that physicians always clarify is that there is a difference between “working out” and “physically moving the body.”
A proper workout routine, where you’re working hard, and feel some discomfort, awakens a stress response in the body.
Our bodies can adapt to that stress when we are healthy and makes us fitter and stronger over time.
However, the stress caused by a hard workout could be more than what our immune systems can handle.
Having said that, there’s no reason to look for the bed the minute you feel the sniffles. Unless you’re completely out of shape, the movement shouldn’t hurt you; it might even help.
Bare in mind that with movement I refer to light exercise like:
walking (preferably outdoors),
Low-intensity riding (again, outdoors),
All of these activities, in facts, boost immunity.
What about “working out”?
Light exercise and purposefully working out are different.
Not all workouts are equal. There are low-intensity workouts and high-intensity workouts.
Low for some people might be high for another. So how can you decide what level of intensity counts as strenuous or stressful for your system?
In general, a moderate/low-intensity workout will leave you feeling energised. A high-intensity workout delivers an ass-kicking.
Avoiding the ass-kicking when sick, it makes sense.
Let’s take a look at why.
Exercise affects the immune system.
After long and hard training session, we’re more susceptible to infection. Running a marathon, for instance, may temporarily depress the adaptive immune system. This is the reason so many endurance athletes get sick right after a competition.
Further, moderate-intensity exercise session can boost immunity in healthy people.
Interestingly, continuous resistance training seems to stimulate innate (but not adaptive) immunity. Chronic moderate exercise appears to strengthen the adaptive immune system.
Summing it up:
Moderate exercise and resistance training can make the immune system stronger over time. So, train hard while you’re healthy.
However, high intensity/long duration exercise sessions can interfere the function of your immune system. So, when you’re feeling sick, you need to take care.
Exercise isn’t the sole factor affecting the immune system. Stress plays a big role too.
Physical stress: exercise, sports, physical labour, infection, etc.
Psychological stress: relationships, career, financial, etc.
Environmental stress: hot, cold, dark, light, altitude, etc.
Lifestyle stress like drugs, diet, hygiene, etc.
Stress triggers an entire cascade of hormonal shifts that can result in chronic immune changes.
Acute stress of hours or minutes can be beneficial to immune health.
The chronic stress of years or days can be a big problem.
So, if you’re angry, or scared each day for weeks, months, or even years at a time, your immunity is being compromised. And you’re more likely to get sick.
Sickness and stress
It’s pretty obvious that your immune system will already be stressed if you’re sick and fighting an infection.
And if you add the stress of long, vigorous exercise, you might overload yourself. That will make you sicker.
Besides stress, other factors that can affect our immunity. These factors can interact with exercise either offering protection or making us more likely to get sick.
You should get back into exercise in proportion to the length of sickness. Take three days to ease back in, if you were sick for three days.
A cheat sheet of Exercise activities.
Activities to be considered when you’re sick.
These need to be done at a low intensity, keeping low heart rate. Outdoor exercise in mild temperatures is preferable. Inside is fine if you can’t get outside.
Avoid these activities when you’re sick.
Heavy strength training
High-intensity interval training
Exercise in extreme temperatures
And, stay out of the gym, for the sake of the rest of us. You’re much more likely to spread your germs to others at the gym. Viruses spread by breathing the air and contact with sick people.
If you feel to do physical activity, for that reason do it outside or at your home gym.