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Should I exercise when I'm sick?

It’s that time of year. The cold and flu is all around us. And if you’re like many of us, you may be in various stages of a virus or recovering from one. This can really derail your New Year’s resolution of getting regular exercise. But should it? It can be difficult to determine when we should rest and when we should continue to exercise. The body’s immune response to exercise when it’s healthy gives us some valuable information that can help us make healthier choices when we’re sick. First, there is a difference between a “workout” and just physically moving the body. A structured workout routine — one where you’re breathing heavily, sweating, working hard, and feeling some discomfort — awakens a stress response in the body. When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to that stress. In fact, over time this progressive adaptation is what makes us fitter and stronger.

But when we’re sick, the stress of a tough workout can be more than our immune systems can handle. This is when you should seek out non-strenuous movement. Activities such as walking, low-intensity bike riding, gardening, T’ai Chi and yoga have actually been shown to boost immunity, and they can help you feel better and recover faster.

The bottom line is there is no reason to confine yourself to the couch while you’re recovering from a virus, unless of course that’s what you need. In general, non-strenuous movement will give you energy and stimulate your immune response without compromising your path to healing and recovery. Pay attention to your body and let your own perceived level of exertion be your guide. Soldier on, immune system!

In health,

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