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Should I exercise if I’m sick?

My nose is running like a tap and I’m miserable. Being unable to exercise hardly helps. But am I subscribing to an old wives tale here? Am I really better off in bed?
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Exercise with a cold or flu

I’m just back from a trip to the Sunshine State – it’s the last place I expected to catch the flu! But, whatever Queensland. We beat you in Origin. (Is this true? Eek. I don’t watch footy).

My nose is running like a tap and I’m miserable. Being unable to exercise hardly helps. But am I subscribing to an old wives tale here? Am I really better off in bed? All bed seems to do is morph me into a whinger.

A little old fashioned research has revealed that the answer’s more complicated than a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Here’s what I uncovered about exercising when you’re sick:

Rule #1: Your body’s telling you to slow down

“We all know that exercise is key to good health, but there are times that your body may need a break,” says Dr Keith Veselik, director of primary care at Loyola University Health System in the USA.

“Having to slow down is nature’s way of saying don’t push it and it’s reasonable to pay attention to that.”

Rule # 2:It’s okay to exercise if your symptoms are above the neck

This is just a general rule, not an overarching one. But sore throats and runny noses are symptoms that can withstand a little light exercise, says Veselik.

Symptoms that mean you should leave those runners in the wardrobe include:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath or chest congestion
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting and
  • Feelings of light-headedness.

Rule #3: Avoid gyms and group exercise

Coughing and sneezing over others just isn’t cricket. And besides, your immune system is already compromised, so you don’t want to catch something new – on top of what you’ve already got, that is.

As Veselik says: “Skip the Zumba class or basketball game and go for a walk or a run by yourself instead.”

And if you do go to the gym and cheekily ignore this advice, make sure you wipe down the equipment before, and after, you use it.

Rule #4:Take things gently

“People need to pace themselves when they get back into a routine,” says Veselik.

“You won’t be able to do much right away, and that’s okay. Initially it should be 50 per cent effort and 50 per cent duration. Listen to your body and increase [your load] depending on what it tells you.” If you’re sick, too, you have my utmost sympathies.

Tell me, what are you doing to get better? (And is it working?)

As well as writing this blog, I am:

  • Inhaling 10 drops of eucalyptus oil from a bowl of boiling water, then rubbing some directly onto my chest and back
  • Taking vitamin C
  • Using an antiseptic throat gargle

Does it work? Bit too early to tell, but so far, so good.

References available on request


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