Do You Work Out When You’re Sick?

This is a question that I’ve been pondering ever since I felt terrible a few days after my first race. Oddly enough, in the same cardio session yesterday I got the scientific data about workouts while sick from both a fitness podcast and a copy of Women’s Health magazine.

Studies show that a tough workout temporarily suppresses your immune system. Intense sprints, iron men, triathlons, marathons, races, workouts over an hour, or workouts that are more challenging than what your body is used to can leave you more susceptible to colds for up to three days. Why? Increased adrenaline puts your body into “fight or flight” mode, increasing suppressant hormones (including immune system suppressants). This is why people who run races often find themselves sniffling and drowsy a few days later.

But consistent, moderate work-outs actually improve your immune system: strengthening its reaction time, increasing bacteria-attacking cells in your body, and improving blood flow in your body, which means all those extra bacteria-killers can get from point A to point B much faster.

But, does that mean you should work out when you’re already sick? There are two distinctions to make: Moderate v. intense activity; and upper (“above-the-neck”) v. lower body (chest) cold symptoms. Intense training is probably a no-no during either an upper-body cold or one that has traveled into your chest. Moderate activity can also be negative during a chest cold or the flu. Just sleep it off! However, moderate activity while suffering from above-the-neck cold symptoms is not a terrible thing.

The bottom line? Know your body and know your symptoms. I struggle with taking a day off sometimes, but I just have to remind myself that the break may be more beneficial than going through with the workout.


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Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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