Does exercise help or hinder an illness?
It's that time of year; despite all your hand washing, you've
caught a cold. You're fatigued, congested, and worried that
your illness will roadblock your fitness goals. Is it better to
let your body rest or will exercise get you off the sick list?
"For most mild colds, it's safe to continue your workout
routine," says Jacqueline Ewing, DO, family physician.
"What's most important is that you listen to your body.
The more you are in tune with your body, the easier it is
to determine if exercise or rest is the right option for
When exercise is better
If you experience mild symptoms of a cold or illness,
exercise may bring you some relief.
"Exercise triggers the body to release endorphins,
the chemicals in the brain associated with pain relief,"
says Ewing. "Depending on your ailment, these endorphins
could relieve some pain, even while exercising
at a lower intensity."
But depending on the severity and duration of your
illness, you may be best served resting your body. So what
symptoms are red flags to take cover under the sheets?
Check out the following:
- Upper respiratory infection/cold
You've got a sore throat, sneezing, runny
nose, cough, watery eyes, fever, congestion,
headache or ear pressure.
Red Flags: If the symptoms affect your
breathing rate at rest, either through
wheezing or tightness in the chest, sit this
one out and see your physician. Also if the
symptoms are severe and last longer than
a few days, see your doctor.
You've got cramping, lower abdominal
pain and/or back pain with menses.
Red Flags: When pain is intense, lie in
bed with a heating pad. If increasing or
regularly severe, call your gynecologist
or your family doctor.
You've got diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever,
chills or abdominal pain.
Red Flags: Diarrhea and vomiting can
cause dehydration, which needs to be taken
seriously. It's important to rest and take small
sips of liquids. You're body needs to be well
hydrated to fight off infection. If symptoms
are severe or last more than a couple days,
call your doctor.
You've got body aches, fatigue, high fever,
headache, chills or cold symptoms.
Red Flags: Unless you have a really mild case
of the flu, it's best to wait this one out and rest.
Fever is your body's way to fight off infection.
Rest and allow it to come down before exposing
others or doing regular activities.
"If you choose to rest through an illness, be sure to only take a few days off. Don't let one illness
set you off track completely," says Ewing. "Gradually transition back into your regular routine once
symptoms subside. Exercise can help keep your immune system strong to fend off future illnesses."