Exercise Considerations When You Are Feeling Unwell

November 30, 2015

Despite following a healthy diet and workout plan, even the most ardent exerciser feels unwell from time to time. Regular exercisers often feel that they should be immune to illness and really struggle with taking time off when they are unwell. As a result, some exercisers actually prolong their illness by exercising when, really, they should have taken a few days off.

There are lots of reasons for feeling unwell – from not enough sleep or too much stress to more serious medical conditions and diseases. And ironically, too much exercise can also make you ill as excessive exercise and insufficient rest can over-tax your immune system leaving you open to germs, viruses and bugs.

For that reason, if you feel unwell you should always listen to your body and avoid being a slave to your workout schedule. In some instances, exercise can make a medical condition worse. If you suspect you are more than a little unwell, you should skip your workouts and get some medical advice. However, if you just feel a little out of sorts, a visit to the doctor may be unnecessary and you can make the decision whether to exercise or not yourself.

Feeling Tired Or Sore?

If you slept in an unusual position, exercised especially hard the day before, spent a long time sat down or did some unusually demanding physical activity, it is not uncommon to feel tired and/or sore.

Feeling like this means that exercise is probably the last thing you want to do but, in this instance, getting up and moving is probably the best thing for you. Exercise pumps freshly oxygenated blood into your muscles and warms them up which can relieve soreness and fatigue. It also increases your production of synovial fluid which helps keep your joints feeling supple.

If, however, you feel tired and/or sore, it makes sense to back off on both exercise intensity and volume – have an easy workout. One way to do this is to have a “50% day” where you exercise for half as long and half as hard as normal. Such an unchallenging workout will enhance recovery and reduce soreness without tiring you out. You should soon find that your normal energy levels return as your soreness dissipates.

The Winter Blues

Winter tends to be when colds, the flu and other such respiratory illnesses are more common. Many people believe that they can simply “sweat out” a cold and while exercise may provide some short-term relief from symptoms because of the production of endorphins, it is not always a good idea to exercise of you have the sniffles.

As most respiratory conditions are also communicable, if you chose to exercise with a cold, consider those around you. While it’s no problem to go for a run outdoors, hitting the gym and being in close contact with other exercisers could lead to cross-contamination. If you are coughing or sneezing, steer clear of other people as much as possible to avoid spreading whatever it is that ails you.

Fit To Exercise – Do The Neck Check!

As a general rule, if your symptoms are mostly above your neck (blocked nose, runny nose, sore throat etc.) then you should be okay to exercise BUT take it easy to avoid overtaxing your already hard-working immune system.

If, however, your symptoms are below the neck (tight chest, hacking or productive cough etc.) then exercise is not a good idea and will probably make you worse and delay recovery. If you are feeling weak or fatigued, you should also consider skipping your workout. For starters, you won’t be able to exercise as strenuously as normal which will limit the benefit of your workout. Also, any such symptoms would suggest that your body is too busy dealing with your illness to spare additional energy for exercise.

In addition to the above/below the throat rule, if you have a fever then you should not exercise until your temperature returns to normal. Fever indicates your immune system is working very hard and adding exercise on top of the stress of being ill is a recipe for making you more ill for longer.

Injuries And Joint Pain

While following a sensible workout plan, using good exercise technique and warming up/cooling down properly should reduce your chances of injury, sometimes injuries happen anyway. Ranging from a mild strain to something more serious, injuries are often a part of getting and staying fit.

In many cases, it is possible to work around in injury. For example, if you suffer a calf strain while running, you could focus on some upper body strength training until you have recovered. This “work around” allows you to continue exercising even if it’s not the workout you really want to do.

More serious injuries may require complete rest – back injuries for example.

Joint injuries are inevitably more serious than muscle injuries and also take longer to heal. In many cases, joint injuries require medical treatment and even surgery to recover. That doesn’t mean you cannot exercise with a joint injury but you may need to modify your workout routine to avoid making any such condition worse.

Ultimately, pain is a good indicator of whether you should be doing something and must not be ignored or worked through. Pain during or after exercise suggests something is wrong and needs to be investigated. While it is possible to manage pain with ice and pain killers, this is never a good idea because the cause of the pain is simply ignored. Investigate the cause of the pain and address it because ignoring pain can lead to far worse, long lasting problems.

Nutritional Considerations

Whether you are ill or injured, nutrition plays an important part in your recovery. The recovery process is reliant on vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein so it is essential that you eat a healthy diet even if you are not currently able to exercise. Also, avoid comfort eating to cheer yourself up – this can lead to weight gain and make the return to exercise even more of a challenge.

Exercise Your Common Sense!

When it comes to feeling unwell, exercise your common senses when deciding whether you should or shouldn’t work out. If you do choose to exercise but then feel like you are doing yourself more harm than good, don’t be a fitness martyr – cut your workout short, wait until you are feeling better and return to exercise gradually over a few days when you feel better.

Remember, exercise should be fun and healthful. In many cases, exercising when unwell will simply delay the recovery process. It’s okay to take a few guilt-free days off exercise if you are feeling unwell!

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