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How Much Can I Exercise when I am Sick with a Cold?

by in Colds/Flus, Exercise, Influenza December 5, 2008

Now most of us know better than to go on a twenty mile run in the freezing rain and wind when we are suffering from a bad cold, but still many of my athletic clients will call me up and ask exactly how much exercise they can get away with while they are sick.

I follow the basic rule of thumb that if you have a cold above the chest that a light work-out is ok. Exercise raises our body temperature which then allows oxygen to be more bio-available for our immune system to utilize and kill whatever pathogen is ailing us.

Light exercise stimulates the immune system, yet extreme exercise is shown to suppress immune function. Exercise can be used therapeutically to stimulate the immune system at the first sign of a cold or upper respiratory infection. Remember that most colds spend on average “Three days coming, three days staying, and three days leaving”. If you are past the first three days, or have a deep chest cold then exercise is not going to speed up the recovery process and may in fact hinder your recovery or make matters worse.

Although physicians make medical decisions on a case by case basis, exercise is never a good idea if you are experiencing a fever over 100 F, fatigue, deep cough, chest pain of any kind, diarrhea, vomiting, joint pain, headache, or any severe symptoms. If you are not sure if you should exercise you probably should not be.

Ask your doctor when you can return to your regular exercise routine at your visit. If you are doing home treatment then keep your exercise light until your symptoms are fully resolved. The consequences of pushing your body past healthy limits are typically severe and easily avoidable. Remember that according to Naturopathic Medicine theory if we support symptoms and avoid the suppression of them our body goes through a natural remodeling process that results in an overall better state of health after most illness.

Since most of us are not training for the Olympics it is probably a good idea to just cut out any cardio while sick. You can still do some light weight training, pilates, or yoga to keep your body limber and feeling good. Patients that typically do the best are the ones that take the time to listen to their bodies when they are sick, so please just cut down on work and social activities and stay at home and rest.

Remember… “A stitch in time saves nine”. You most likely are better off to stay home, keep warm, drink plenty of fluids and rest until you are back to your normal energetic self.

Dr. Nicole Sundene

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