Exercising When Sick: A Good or a Bad Move?


Any fitness enthusiast would attest to the fact that strict adherence to a workout schedule requires a great deal of self-discipline and personal sacrifice. There simply are too many variables that can derail the intricate fitness plan. A common dilemma that fitness enthusiasts face is the need to create a careful balance between work and life. When they have to stay late at work for example, they are essentially handed a judgment that rules out exercising for the day.

Social life also plays a part as people cannot predict spur of the moment gatherings, and they end up torn between have between skipping gym time for the day and missing the opportunity to catch up with friends. Another problem that exercisers can’t prepare for is illness. When the common cold or the dreaded cough presents itself, individuals have to decide between resting and persevering through their workout schedule.

The Immune System

Before considering whether to indulge in much-needed rest or to sweat off the illness, one must first be aware of how the human body works. Illnesses are a clear indication that the body is under attack by bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites. When this happens, the immune system goes into overdrive to protect the body and fight off the existing invaders. Originating from the thymus and bone marrow, these immune cells wage a war against the harmful elements in the spleen, lymph nodes, and mucous membranes.

The immune system starts to develop since birth, creating physical and chemical barriers to ward off any threats to the body systems. These barriers include the white blood cells that help destroy bacteria, and stomach acids that offer disinfectant properties. As a value-added feature of the immune system, it also possesses the ability to adapt and formulate stronger defenses for the body. When the immune system’s first line of defense is overpowered, this additional feature kicks in gear. It is a more complicated process that helps in the fight against infections mainly by obstructing the colonization of pathogens, destroying viruses and eliminating bacteria.

This secondary immune system is also capable of adapting to external invaders. It is able to identify the specific strain of viruses or bacteria and mobilize accordingly to fight off its attacks. It then builds on immunity and becomes more effective in fighting off stronger strains of the same virus in future.

Exercising While Sick



A medical study published by the Department of Health & Exercise Science, Holmes Convocation Center, Appalachian State University, USA, offers the best answer to this pressing issue. According ti the study, moderate physical activity during bouts of sickness is acceptable, and might even be beneficial. However, it strongly discourages participating in any strenuous activities. After each session of vigorous exercises, the secondary immune system is suppressed, leaving the body vulnerable to infection for up to 72 hours. Combine this effect with the compromised primary immune system, and the risk of multiple infections is magnified exponentially.

The report goes on to establish a guideline for physical activity during times of illness. As a general rule of thumb, individuals displaying signs and symptoms of illnesses that occur below the neck are strongly advised against participating in any form of exercise, regardless of the intensity. This includes episodes of chest discomfort and abdominal pain. Rest is also recommended for individuals suffering from fever, excessive fatigue or widespread muscle aches. In contrast, mild or moderate exercises are acceptable for patients with symptoms that present themselves above the neck. This includes a runny nose, common cold, cough, sneezing, nasal congestion or a sore throat.

The Definition of Moderation



The contentious element here is the perception of moderate exercises. Different people have varying degrees of tolerance towards physical activities. Needless to say, individuals who are in better shape can undertake more strenuous activities without breaking a sweat, whereas those who are physically unfit would struggle to keep up with the same exercise routine. For the sake of clarity, the definition of exercising in moderation can be explained as lowering the intensity of the workout one can normally undergo by a couple of levels.

For instance, fitness enthusiasts who are used to regular running sessions might choose to take a walk or hop on a bike for some low-intensity riding. Recreational badminton or light tennis sessions also qualify as moderate exercises. To add some variety, household chores can be considered as moderate physical activities as well. Tasks such as lawn mowing, gardening and vacuuming can prove to be a good choice of workout.

Interestingly, scientists have also reported that meditation is another suitable practice to implement when a body system is compromised. They discovered that while exercising helps to reduce the severity of illnesses’ symptoms, meditation helps individuals regain normal body functions and restores their quality of life in general. This study offers an interesting perspective on handling the common cold and other less severe illnesses. In the absence of any side effects, there seems to be no harm in giving meditation a shot.


The implementation of a workout schedule requires an admirable amount of determination and discipline. Even with tedious and thorough planning, it is practically impossible to factor in all the variables that can alter the course of a workout routine. When illness strikes, patients have to cope with the internal struggle of whether to push themselves hard or to offer the body adequate rest. In general, it is acceptable to participate in light or moderate exercises if the patient is suffering from an illness with symptoms above the neck. For other more severe illnesses affect anything below the neck, it is mandatory to rest the body before gradually returning to a normal workout schedule.

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