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You just hit a good rhythm with your new ramped-up training routine. And then… you got sick. You thought: “the universe hates me.”

We’ve all been there. But guess what? Doing some exercise when sick is not always a bad idea. In fact, if you do it right, it can actually promote immunity and help you fight off the bug. So let’s find out how!

Exercising When Sick

bike riding

Let’s get one thing clear: there is a difference between “physically moving the body” and “working out.” A structured workout routine is one where you are breathing heavily, working hard, sweating, and feeling some discomfort. That workout awakens a stress response in the body.

When we are healthy, our bodies can very easy adapt to that stress. Over time, this adaptation is precisely what makes us stronger and fitter.

But when we are sick, the stress of a hard workout can be more than our immune system can handle.

Still, there is no reason to dive in the couch the minute you feel sniffles is coming on. Unless you are severely out of shape, a non-strenuous exercise should not hurt you – and it can even help.

What do I mean by “non-strenuous exercise”?

Well, it can include:

  • Low-intensity bike riding
  • Practicing T’ai Chi
  • Gardening
  • Walking

All of these activities boost immunity.

They are not intense enough to do serious immune-compromising stress on the body. Instead, they help you feel better and recover faster.

That is why Dr. Berardi recommends low-intensity non-panting “cardio” when suffering from colds. These activities, done with minimum heart rate elevation, preferably outside, offer benefits.

What About “Working Out” when sick?

working out when sick

Non-strenuous exercise and purposefully working out are different. And, as you probably know, not all workouts are built equally. There are low-intensity workouts and high-intensity workouts – and all kinds of workouts in between.

But what’s low to one human might be high to another. So how do you know what level of intensity counts as strenuous?

Well, let your own perceived level of labor be your guide.

Mainly, a low to moderate-intensity workout will leave you feeling energized. A high-intensity workout, on the other hand, brings an ass-kicking.

If you are sick, it makes sense to avoid the ass-kicking one.

Let’s find out why.

How Exercise Affects Your Immune System

Exercise can play a key role in both our innate and adaptive immune response.

Here is how:

  • After one prolonged vigorous exercise session, we are more susceptible to infection. For example, running a marathon can temporarily depress the adaptive immune system for about 72 hours. This is why many endurance athletes get sick after races.
  • However, one brief, vigorous exercise session does not cause the same immune-suppressing effect. Also, just one moderate-intensity exercise session can actually boost immunity.
  • Chronic resistance training stimulates innate (but not adaptive) immunity. And chronic moderate exercise strengthens the adaptive immune system.

Wrap Up

Consistent, moderate exercise and resistance training will strengthen the immune system over time. Therefore, by all means, train hard while you are healthy.

But single high-intensity or long-duration exercise sessions can interfere with the immune function. So take it easy when you are feeling sick.

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