I think I’m getting sick. Should I still exercise?
We’re in the middle of winter, and the cold and flu season is upon us. On top of the seasonal cold and flu, this year we also have been dealing with COVID19. Understanding the difference between a cold and the flu is the first step in determining whether or not exercise is the right move. Colds and influenza (flu) are both viral respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. While neither virus is pleasant to catch, the flu can be much more severe than a cold, with symptoms generally lasting longer than those of a cold, and lead to potentially life-threatening complications. The symptoms of flu can include fever (or feeling feverish/having chills), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches and pains, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). It is also worth noting that symptoms and their severity may vary with age and health status. (Queensland Health, 2017). If you are unaware, COVID19 is also a respiratory virus meaning it shares many similar symptoms with influenza and for most people it will cause only mild illness (World Health Organization, 2020).
If you are feeling unwell, it’s very easy to say as a blanket rule not to be active at all. However keep in mind that there is a difference between a strenuous workout and physically moving your body (Andrews, 2020). A strenuous workout is one where you are breathing heavily, sweating, and feeling some discomfort whereas physically moving your body is participating in non-strenuous activities such as walking, low-intensity bike rides, or yoga. As a guide, doing a ‘neck check’ is a good way to determine the level of activity you should participate in when unwell. The neck check is simply this, if your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and tearing eyes, then it's OK to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever, and fatigue, non-strenuous activities done outdoors or complete rest, are the way to go (Mann, 2007).
There are steps you can take to prevent the spread of illness, which should be fairly common practice. These include:
wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub
wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
use a tissue, or the inside of your arm, when you cough and sneeze
throw tissues away immediately and wash your hands
don't share items such as cigarettes, cups, lipstick, toys, or anything which has come into contact with the mouth or nose
stay at least 1.5 metres away from people who have flu-like symptoms
clean frequently touched surfaces regularly, such as mobile phones, keyboards, remote controls, door handles, taps, tables, benches, gym equipment and fridge doors
in the gym, using a towel on all applicable pieces of equipment that you use
(Queensland Health, 2020)
To minimize your chances of getting, or keeping the level of your sickness to a minimum, there are things that you can do to boost your immune system. Harvard Health Publishing (2020) list the following as ways to boost your immune system:
Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
Maintain a healthy weight.
If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
Try to minimize stress.
Get adequate sleep.
To give your body the best chance of fighting off any possible infection, there are things you can do before getting sick, as well as while you’re sick. Living an overall balanced healthy lifestyle is one of the best steps you can take. Pay attention to any symptoms you may be experiencing and ultimately be sure to listen to your body. Remember to move often, eat well, and get sufficient rest so that you can live your best life.
Andrews, R. (2020). Exercise when sick: Should you sweat it out? Or rest and recover? Retrieved from https://www.precisionnutrition.com/working-out-when-sick
Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, April 6). How to boost your immune system. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
Mann, D. (2007, October 23). Exercising When Sick: A Good Move? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/exercising-when-sick#1
Queensland Health. (2017, June 12). What's the difference between a cold and the flu? Retrieved from https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/difference-between-cold-flu-virus
Queensland Health. (2020, March 23). Influenza (The Flu). Retrieved from http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/14/217/82/influenza-the-flu
World Health Organization. (2020, February 25). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) - Situation Report 36. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200225-sitrep-36-covid-19.pdf#:~:text=Although%20for%20most%20people%20COVID,to%20be%20more%20vulnerable.