I’ve got the lurgy! Should I exercise?

One common question I get asked is ‘should I exercise/train whilst I have a cold?’ As a fitness instructor, I see my keen bean participants attending my class no matter what bugs come their way. Sometimes this can been seen as fantastic dedication, other times I think it is a bit foolish.

Reasons not to exercise ::

Regardless of the illness, you should always consider that no matter how much cabin fever/restlessness you mentally have, your body is working hard behind the scenes. Your body is probably working harder than you will ever know or appreciate. Remember that whatever illness your body is fighting, it is causing stress on your system, and most of the training in the fitness world also puts stress on the body.

Time for an analogy ::

Imagine a time in your life when you were pretty stressed at work, with a hectic project, difficult situation or a big fire you had to put out. How would you feel if a key client came with a project demanding urgent attention? Regardless of the stressful situation, you deliver. You work under extreme pressure through very long days to deliver results across all areas. You feel a sense of accomplishment yet now you feel exhausted and at the edge of being burnt out. However, on the project review you see that the task from your client wasn’t urgent at all, the deadline was a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’. When it comes to dealing with illness, in my opinion, fitness/training is a ‘want’, health is the ‘need’

“But I’m on a training program!”

The best training programs/trainers out there offer adaptability for external factors, beit menstrual cycles/family life/illness/work pressures. Your body has had to adapt to fight an unexpected infection, why don’t you show some adaption too?

Doing your usual training program whilst sick can lead to your illness getting worse, a longer recovery time, long windows of fatigue and an increased risk of injury. ‘Sweat it out’ is a myth. I’m not saying you cannot or should not exercise, but rather than sticking strictly to your rigid routine, adjust and listen to what your body tells you rather than your ego or training program.

Some friendly advice ::

I always try to stay away from hard ‘no’s’ but when it comes to exercising in sickness, there are some sensible steps I can advise.

– Stay away from high intensity workouts. This can be high or low impact (such as HiiT classes or sprints whilst cycling/running/swimming etc).

– Avoid the heavy weights. A weakened immune system results in a weakened body. Avoid those loaded barbells to reduce the risk of injury.

– Stay away from shared machines/equipment. You are sick, that sucks! However, don’t go into the gym and spread your germs to others.

– Avoid team sports. Not only can you spread your illness to your teammates, but you also put yourself into a situation that is harder to control your limitations. For example, you might be standing in the cold/rain for long periods of time or be overexerting longer than you hoped for!

– Less extremes. Hot yoga studios or skiing down a snowy slope might distract you for a while, but the body is already working hard without it needing to frantically do hectic temperature control too.

The other side of the argument

Firstly, if you don’t want to do anything, that’s fine! You’re sick! Lie on the sofa and enjoy a good Netflix binge, listen to a podcast, have a bath etc. I find rest and recovery a very underrated topic in the fitness industry, so I like to preach it! I’m very comfortable in admitting that whilst I had covid, I didn’t do one bit of exercise. My body certainly wasn’t feeling anything active. However, this has not always been the case and there are some lovely movements you can add into this time of your life.

Reasons to exercise ::

Our body is designed to move, and movement creates positive processes in the body! A gentle walk aids digestion, increased movements around joints makes them more supple, increased blood flow around some areas can reduce cramping sensations, the list goes on.

Therefore, some forms of exercise can have a positive effect on how you and your body are feeling. If you are lying on the coach all day with an achy body, chances are that you feel achy because of the sickness and also because your body has naturally stiffened.

 Additionally, sometimes doing exercise and increasing the breath can open up the airways and provide some light relief to those pesky symptoms.

Some exercise options

– Mobility. This helps increase our range of motion around our joints and reduce stiffness and inflammation in this area. When we get a big immune reaction, our muscles ache sensation is actually a by product of our white blood cells fighting off the nasty virus/infection. Mobility training around our joints helps to flush out this by product which causes the aches and therefore can freshen you up!

– Yoga. Breathing exercises can open up the airwaves and gentle stretching/low impact movement can loosen everything up.

Heavy head or a sore sinus?  Stay upright and avoid forward folding exercises. Ear ache? Stay grounded and avoid balance exercises.

– Gentle walks/cycles. Get some fresh air, Vitamin D and start pumping the blood around the body. It doesn’t have to be fast or long, a little bit of movement can go a long way.

– Calf raises. This is a quick hack to get the blood pumping strongly around the whole body without needing to raise the heart rate up high.

– Stretches in your achy area. Some gentle movement/stretching/exercises in your achy area can help increase blood flow and hence reduce aches and cramps. Females, this is especially relevant if you get a cold and have a period at the same time.

Conclusion

With all this said and done, the best advice I can always give someone is to listen to their body rather than their head whilst sick.

Staying stationary is totally fine, moving around can often also be totally fine as long as there are sensible adaptations.

Allow your body to recover, give yourself permission to slow down and be kind to yourself. A little break off training is not going to do anything in the grand scheme of things. I know it sucks, I’ve been there countless times! But remember your body has a battle raging inside you that you cannot see. Don’t underestimate the work that it does.           

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