Corinne Austin | Personal Training

Exercise and Illness

Your morning alarm startles you awake and alerts you to your planned 6am gym session. But you quickly realise the sore throat you had upon going to bed last night is still with you. You also notice your nose is a bit sniffly. You wonder if that’s a reasonable enough excuse to slam the snooze button and catch another hour of sleep. But that other little voice in your head tells you to harden up, throw some water over your face, and get your butt moving.

Needless to say that this situation has probably confronted many of us during the winter bug season. So, what should we do if confronted by colds and illness? To exercise or not to exercise, that is the question.

Basically it all depends upon the symptoms your body is experiencing. As a general rule of thumb use what I call the ‘neck check’. If your symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, slight headache, sore throat, and nasal congestion) then it’s generally considered safe to exercise. However, if you have symptoms below your neck (aches, chills, upset tummy, chest congestion, hacking cough) then rest is best.

Most importantly though, a fever trumps everything. A fever is indicative of your body trying to fight infection. So to enable your body to put up a good fight against infection it is crucial you refrain from exercising until your temperature has returned to normal.

Once you’ve don’t the ‘neck check’ and passed (i.e. symptoms are above the neck only) you must still employ sensible tactics about how it is you will exercise whilst in the company of a common cold. As a basic guide, these are the rules I employ:

  • Drink More Water – hydration becomes even more important when your health has been compromised by illness, even if it is just a cold.
  • Reduce the Intensity of your Workout – exercising at a low to moderate intensity won’t compromise your immune system or make your symptoms worse. High intensity exercise like interval training or circuit training on the other hand, will weaken your immune system, so it’s best to avoid this intensity of training until your health has been restored.
  • Reduce the duration of your workout – exercise for sure, but make it more brief. Exercising with a cold is about clearing your head, keeping up your healthy habits, and maintaining your fitness. But it is not the right time to increase your fitness level.
  • Have a nap and get more sleep – during sleep your body is repairing and replenishing itself from the daily stressors. During illness this is even more the case. So getting greater than adequate rest is essential.

It’d be great to harness a force-field that would prevent us from being struck down by winter illness. However, unfortunately for most of us the common cold and other winter bug delights are inevitable. During a cold, a nice light bout of exercise will help clear nasal congestion and get oxygen flowing. However, regardless of what illness your body has succumbed to, you are the best judge of your body and it’s needs. Be wise before you exercise.

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