Feeling under the weather? Although you may not feel like getting out of bed, light exercise may actually help you feel better if you're fighting off a bug.
In general, exercise promotes a strong, healthy body, and many believe exercise can boost immunity. Although there is hard evidence that physical activity improves immunity, there are several theories (none of which have been proven) as to why exercising when you are fighting minor illnesses may help you feel better.
• Exercise may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing your chance of contracting an airborne illness such as the cold or flu.
• Exercise causes white blood cells and antibodies (immune system cells) to circulate more rapidly and detect illness more quickly.
• Exercise causes a brief rise in body temperature, which may prevent bacteria from growing and help the body fight infection more effectively.
• Exercise slows the release of stress-related hormones, which can increase chance of illness.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, mild to moderate exercise is not harmful for people experiencing symptoms of the common cold without fever, such as nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing. However, it is important that you don’t overdo it on exercise when you’re not feeling your best. Intense exercise may actually suppress the immune system, making it more difficult for you to recover from minor illnesses.
Be particularly smart about exercise when taking medications, as some may adversely affect your workout. For example, decongestants can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and some antihistamines can make you groggy.
The bottom line? Listen to your body and pay attention to how you are feeling. As long as you don’t have a fever, do what you feel up to and be okay with what you are unable to do while sick. Forcing yourself to exercise when you feel miserable may just make you feel worse. Staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest are much more important than exercise when it comes to overcoming illness.
If you have been feeling sick for more than a few days, or if you have questions about exercising while ill, contact your primary care provider.