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Should I Work Out When I’m Sick?

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Mackie Shilstone

This is a question I get asked frequently and it’s a very serious question everyone should be asking themselves when they’re not feeling well. As one might expect, overexerting the body when it is not up to its optimum operating capacity could, indeed, have unfortunate and unpleasant consequences.

The major medical concern has to do with overheating. If someone is already running a fever, he or she runs the risk of aggravating that fever with a strenuous workout. The increased action on the body and its functions has the effect of raising the body’s temperature and thus decreases its ability to fight off infection-causing micro-organisms. Leucocytes or white corpuscles are the body’s primary attack force against invading germs and infectious bacteria. They do their best work when the body is engaged in little or no strenuous activity. In the body’s inert state, the leucocytes can focus on performing the function they were designed to perform, attacking and neutralizing the microscopic alien invaders that make us sick.

So my position is, if you’re okay from the nose up, it should be safe to work out. However, check with your physician when in doubt.

Some illness-causing viruses can worsen in the chest area and lower extremities if they are aggravated by intense physical activity. For example, myocarditis could result. This is a disease that negatively impacts the body’s natural immune system, resulting in a negative nitrogen balance and muscle protein degradation. Whereas, moderate physical training actually stimulates the immune system, exhaustive and strenuous exercise may be followed by a temporary immunodeficiency and an increased susceptibility to respiratory tract infections. Exercising in the acute phase of an infection may promote myocarditis, an ailment that proved fatal to a group of young athletes in Sweden between 1979 and 1992.

According to an abstract on the National Library of Medicine’s “Gratefulmed” website, “There are risks associated with strenuous physical activity during the acute phase of viral infection, and there are reports of sudden death and serious complications occurring in previously fit young adults who undertake vigorous exercise when in the acute phase of a viral illness. Abnormalities of skeletal muscle have been demonstrated in patients with viral infection and this may explain the loss of performance experienced by athletes after an upper respiratory tract infection. As a general rule, for all but mild common colds, it is advised that the athlete avoid hard training for the first month after infection.”

So, the best advice I can offer as to whether or not you should work out when you’re sick is to consult your physician and listen to your own body. Don’t take chances with your physical health and well-being. Don’t push yourself. Don’t feel as though your body is suddenly going to go flabby or out of shape simply because you miss a day or two of exercise. Just as your body needs physical stimulation to stay in proper shape, it also needs respite from exertion when it’s not quite up to snuff. Give yourself a break from your regimen and take the vitamins, supplements and other nutrients and medicines that promote physical recovery. Allow your body the time it needs to recover, take the rest it is demanding and, in due time, you’ll be well and back into your exercise routine again.