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Tips when to exercise or not if sick

When you’re an active adult, you may wonder if it’s okay to exercise when sick? The eDocAmerica Health Tip offers this advice:

Do not exercise if you have the following symptoms:

• Fever, body/muscle aches, or fatigue

• Chest congestion, wheezing, or a bad cough

• Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting

You can exercise if you only have the following symptoms:

Runny nose, head or nasal congestion, sneezing, minor sore throat. Some people like to use the distinction “above the neck” or “below the neck.” If your symptoms are all above the neck, it is OK to exercise, but if you have symptoms below the neck, you should not exercise.

eDocAmerica says, if you feel miserable, you should take a few days off from exercise. If your symptoms are bothersome, but not making you feel miserable, go ahead and exercise. If you do want to exercise when you are sick, here are some things to consider:

• Reduce the intensity and length of your normal work out; maybe go for a walk instead of a run.

• Consider doing some indoor exercise, rather than exercising outdoors in winter weather conditions. If the weather is not harsh, the outdoor air might do you some good.

• Listen to your body. If you get tired or your muscles start hurting during your workout, you should stop the workout. The next day, try something less strenuous.

• If you start coughing or wheezing during a workout, stop the workout.

• If you do take a few days off from your regular exercise routine while you are sick, this should not have any adverse effect on your exercise performance. As you start to feel better, gradually get back into your exercise routine. Start at a lower intensity and pace, and gradually increase to your normal routine. Within a few days to a week, you should be back to your normal workout. Does exercise decrease the chances of getting sick?

eDocAmerica confirms, yes, but there are some exceptions. Research indicates that people who participate in moderate exercise on a regular basis (approximately 150 minutes per week) have significantly fewer respiratory infections than people who are sedentary. This includes colds, flu, sinus infections, and other respiratory infections. There are positive immune changes that take place during each bout of moderate physical activity, which translate to this protective benefit.

However, people who push beyond normal exercise limits, such as high intensity exercise or for excessive time periods, have more respiratory infections than people who perform moderate exercise. This includes people participating in high intensity workouts for more than 90 minutes at a time, such as marathon runners.

If you already have a cold, mild to moderate exercise is usually fine when you have a mild upper respiratory illness. Exercise can help to temporarily open your nasal passages and relieve congestion. However, there are times when exercise may cause more harm than good.

Carol Marak, aging advocate and editor at She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

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