The nitty gritty behind working out when getting sick and how exercise can affect your immune system

Heather Sloan
16 Apr , 2022

We have all been there.  You’ve done it.  You have committed yourself to a race, a program or a fitness goal and somewhere along the way you start to feel a bit run down.  Am I getting sick? Can I push through? Should I continue to try to hit my training goals even if I feel run down?? With winter months upon us and immune function being more challenged – these are questions you might want to think about.

Maybe you have been training for a long time to get this point or maybe you are just getting your running groove back into swing and finally feeling excited to have that running focus again.  Whether you are a beginner or an Olympic level athlete, knowing how to boost your immune system, when to lie low and what signs to look out for - may just give you that competitive advantage.

IS IT OK TO WORK OUT WHEN YOU ARE SICK?

If you have a minor upper respiratory cold (mild nasal congestion, sneezing slightly or feeling a little run down) a light workout is no problem. In fact, going for that run may even give you an immune boost as long as you don’t overdo it. Think a fun light workout to get the body moving and producing a light sweat. 

However, working out too hard can suppress the immune system and create a stress-based response that actually weakens your immune system.  If you had scheduled a day to really push yourself, regardless of your training goals, this would be the time to listen to your body and scale back.

WHEN TO NOT WORK OUT

Any Running or other workouts should be avoided if there is a fever, if you are absolutely exhausted or if you have a chest related illness.  On these days, regardless of your fitness regime, it is time to focus on recovery.  Relaxing, resting, getting more sleep and drinking more fluids (think water, green juices, soups) and eating easily digestible foods in addition to using sauna/steam can all help you speed up your recovery so you can get back to your training commitments and fitness goals as soon as possible.

SO DOES EXERCISE HELP IMPROVE IMMUNITY or LOWER IT?

As the winter months are kicking in and staying healthy is on top of everyone’s mind, we need to do our best to improve our own natural immune system.  So, what is the proper amount of exercise anyway? Truth be told - It all depends on your individual FITNESS LEVEL

As mentioned above, studies have actually proven that “moderate exercise” improves immune function by decreasing the susceptibility to viral infections (inducting TH1 cytokine profile shifts). If there were ever an incentive to get back to your running …this is it!

Exercise can help with weight loss, modulating the body’s inflammation and also improving proper sleep habits.

However, “Prolonged exercise and Overtraining” can cause numerous changes in immunity that reflect physiological stress and immune suppression - hence decreasing your immunity and making you more susceptible to getting sick.

The actual workout, how far you run and how hard you go – doesn’t itself matter in determining which side of the immune spectrum you fall into.  What matters is the individual intensity for YOU.

For the average adult, the ideal amount of regular exercise should be around 150 min/week at a moderate intensity or 75 min/week of vigorous/aerobic physical activity (or a combination).  If you are currently out of your training regime, coming off an injury, untrained or out of shape this same program might create burn out and suppress your immune system over time.  Focus on working up to this level at your own pace.  Training, intensity and capacity to handle stresses on the body need to be improved over time, based on your current fitness level.

If you are currently in peak shape and crushing it – make sure you pay attention to your own baselines and modify accordingly.  Overtraining really is variable and dependent per person, per fitness level and individual ability to recover.

To keep your immune system in top shape (especially over the holidays), try to boost it with important minerals and vitamins and avoid other immune system depressants like excessive alcohol, processed and inflammatory foods and cigarettes/smoking/vaping.

If you are looking for some extra stability, help with pain relief, faster recovery or just a super cool fashionable Kinesiology Tape to accompany your workout goals – be sure to check out Heali Tape Pro and order some today www.healimedical.com @healimedical.

Heali is a local Canadian company and Heali Tape Pro is the official Kinesiolgy tape of the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon. It is infused with natural tested ingredients Menthol and Magnesium.  Heali Tape Pro is a great training companion as you work toward your running goals and makes a great gift for friends and family. 

Run Hard. Recover Faster. – Heather & Li-

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