As winter rolls around and cold snaps wreak havoc on everyone from co-workers to partners to that-guy-next-to-you-on-the-bus-who-can’t-stop-sneezing—it’s a hard time of year to keep fit. As you start to come down with a cold—but at the same time realise you haven’t been to the gym in over a week (and have been cooped up in an office all day exercising little more than your eye-rolling muscles)— you face the age-old dilemma: to gym or not to gym?
When’s it ok to sweat it out, and when should you take a break? It depends on what kind of exercise you’re going to do, and how sick you are. Generally speaking, low-intensity activities like walking, stretching and yoga (not Bikram), which require little recovery from, have been shown to increase immunity, and can even help you get better quicker.
However, if you’re feeling sick, a high-intensity session or long cardio workout can impair your immune function and lengthen recovery time—making you sicker. What constitutes low or high intensity depends on your current level of fitness, age and regular exercise routine. A low-intensity workout should leave you feeling good and energised while a high-intensity workout will leave you feeling like you just ran a marathon (hint: don’t run a marathon).
We hit up Stephen Massey, a GP at Bondi Doctors, who said that people should listen to their bodies but never try and “sweat it out.” According to him, “Feeling exhausted means your body is using its energy to fight the infection and you shouldn’t deprive the immune system by over exerting yourself.” So stick to light exercise—at most.
“Some light exercise in mild illness does seem to have benefits which I suspect are mostly mental. For this reason I recommend light cardio such as walking, light jogging or swimming aiming for outdoors for the added benefit of some fresh air and vitamin D.”
Mike Webby, an ex-commando turned PT, agreed, telling us, “If you are genuinely sick and not just being a drama queen then rest! Let your immune system have your full energy resources to fight off the attack from inside instead adding more stress to the body and prolonging the recovery. Only you know how your body is feeling so forget your gym program or fitness app for a few days until you are feeling better and get back at it. Your future body will thank you for it and you will come back stronger.” Although he admits this may be easier to come to grips with the older you get.
“You are only too sick to train if you are dead.”
“This used to be my younger Commando attitude to training as I would see it as a mental and physical challenge but now that i’m a little older, wiser (possibly) and a little less ego-driven, I have learnt to listen to my body and know when it’s telling me to rest and recover.”
As for ‘what type of sick you are,’ as pointed out by Precision Nutrition, below the neck symptoms, such as coughing, aching muscles, fever and fatigue, diarrhoea and vomiting mean it’s time to take a few days off and get back to the exercise when your symptoms or infection are gone.”
When you’re in good health, a tough workout creates a physical stress response in your body—and adaptation to this is how we get fitter and stronger. However, the takeaway point here is to hold off these high intensity workouts until you get better. So: time to Netflix and Sneeze.