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How To Stay Active When You Are Not Feeling Up To It

by Larry Collins, PA-C, ATC

Winter is a time when many of us develop viral or flu-like symptoms – what can you do, and what advice should you give your patients? Is it ok to stay active and maintain a regular exercise schedule?

Well, of course, the answer depends on the type and severity of the symptoms. In general, exercising with mild head congestion and rhinorrhea is fine, and may even be beneficial in the healing process. But if there is fever, generalized muscle aches or diarrhea, rest is probably more appropriate as the stress of exercise may cause worsening symptoms.

A common rule of thumb is if the symptoms are limited to above the neck (sore throat, stuffy nose, sneezing, watery eyes, etc.) it is usually safe to continue with light to moderate exercise. But if the symptoms include chest tightness, forceful or prolonged coughing, widespread body aches, fever or diarrhea, an appropriate period of rest should be considered to allow the body to recover.

Many of us believe that taking time off from our regular exercise routine puts us at risk for losing the progress we’ve made or getting completely out of shape. However, research has demonstrated that it takes several weeks for endurance and muscle mass to be significantly affected. This holds true for both the conditioned athlete who has been training regularly for years and the novice who has been working out for only a couple of months.

The good news is that every time you exercise, your immune system is fired up. Light to moderate exercise (jogging, Pilates, bicycling, etc.) will stimulate your immune system and has even been shown to help reduce the effects of minor illness. High-intensity exercise (interval training, sprints, long-distance training and races) can deplete the immune system and leave you vulnerable to worsening your condition. Your body also may need more recovery time than usual when you are sick, so make sure you get plenty of rest around any exercise.

Remember to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids before, during and after any exercise. Also remember that when you are sick, you are a risk to others. If you are coughing and sneezing in a closed environment (like a gym) you are putting others at risk for getting ill – which will not make you many friends! Always use a towel, wipe off all equipment regularly, and wash your hands and face often.

See Larry Collins, PA-C, ATC speak in 2018 at Skin, Bones, Hearts & Private Parts CME/CE Conferences for PAs, NPs, MDs, and DOs.