Getting Back to Exercise After Illness

Another reader question! Nicole says, Hey! I can’t remember if you’ve covered this or not, but any tips for exercise while recovering from illness?

Great question and very topical – if you haven’t had a cold yet this winter, you probably will soon. (Sorry!)

Ok, disclaimer first: I am not a doctor, I am not a trainer, I am not a nutritionist, I am just an enthusiastic amateur, BUT, since I’ve been exercising regularly for 12+ years now, I have recovered from illness to start exercising again many times (and googled this same question myself a few times in my past as well), here’s what I’ve learned…

First things first – make sure you’re over or mostly over your illness. If you had the flu or a cold, make sure that any fever is gone, you don’t have any of the obvious painful symptoms like headache or a nasty cough, and you don’t feel faint or lightheaded when you stand up. Bottom line: Do not attempt to exercise until your fever, fatigue, and body aches are gone!

Most experts online seem to agree that if your symptoms are “above the neck” you’re good to go. If your symptoms are “below the neck” you probably ought to rest up a little longer. So a runny nose, slight sore throat, sneezing, or sniffles shouldn’t stop you.

Once you feel up to it, get on out there but take some precautions:

  • Take it easy. This one is pretty obvious. The first time back from having the flu or a nasty cold, you’ve got to take it down a notch or two. Reduce the intensity and length of your exercise from what you would normally do.
  • Don’t push it! If you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy, stop. Let your body be your guide.
  • Drink lots of water/stay hydrated.

Light exercise is good for the immune system, but heavy, vigorous exercise can have the opposite effect and lead to a relapse, so focus on getting moving, not building muscle or increasing your distance your first time or two out after an illness.

And, obviously, this is all variable based on what kind of illness you are getting over. If you have something other than a common cold or the flu, check with your doctor about what is appropriate for your situation.

Any doctors or other professionals want to weigh in down in the comments? I’d welcome your input!

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4 Responses to “Getting Back to Exercise After Illness”

  1. Robin Says:

    my trainer says – even if sick – do your workout – in your mind – it helps strengthen the neuro pathways. then begin slowly – do a part physically and the rest mentally until back to form

  2. sara Says:

    the “illness” i am recovering from is a broken foot and a broken arm – that makes most exercise quite difficult – any suggestions

    • Laina Says:

      Oh wow, that’s a really hard one! I think, if I were in your position, I’d try to focus on being more vigilant on regulating my intake, and see if there were any ab exercises I could do without hurting my limbs – maybe situps or something?
      Good luck, that’s such a hard spot to be in, really don’t push it. You’ll be healed up and ready to walk soon enough, right? If you try to push it you might cause a longer healing time or more damage, and that would be way worse than just waiting. :-\
      Also – can you talk to your doctor, maybe s/he has suggestions on what you can do that won’t interfere with your healing process?


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