Should We Exercise When Sick? Rest vs. Workout -Ep. 178

Should We Exercise When Sick? Rest vs. Workout

Should We Exercise When Sick?

This week, Devon and I took some time to answer a question from one of the members of our Open Sky Fitness Podcast group on Facebook. Our OSF group is an awesome community that you can join to interact with other listeners of our show including Devon and myself plus ask questions and get the latest insight on the world of health and fitness.

So the questions that we’ll answer this week include:

  • Can we work out while we’re sick?
  • How can we get better enough to start exercising again?
  • When should we begin to work out again?
  • What types of workouts suppress our immune system and set us up for more frequent bouts of being sick?
  • Which types of foods or supplements should we take when sick?

Rest vs. Workout

It is that time of the year when lots of us are getting sick and it’s vital that we pay close attention to our health and what our bodies are telling us. By the end of this episode, you’ll know how you can better take care of your body. But before we talk about recovering from being sick, it’s important to understand how the immune system works.


Exercise When Sick? The Function of Our Immune System


“Your body has a memory on how to fight previous viruses. My doctor told me that she’s actually thankful for when she gets sick because it’s like her immune system is getting a workout.” – Devon Dionne


Overtime, we build up our immune system so that every time we get sick, we come out stronger. The immune system can actually be broken down into several sections including:

  • Innate Immune System – the physical barrier like mucus, ear wax, coughing or nose hairs aka the first line of defense.
  • Chemical Defense System – Our stomach acids destroy and kill harmful bacteria, tears have enzymes to wash away dust and particles, and fevers break down and kills bacteria.
  • Passive Immune System – babies receive a passive immune system from their mothers that will last at least 6-12 months and will allow them to begin developing their own immune system.

We cannot build an immunity to some viruses like smallpox and that’s when we need vaccinations. It’s just like if you go to Africa, you will need specific vaccinations for disease like tetanus shots or antiserums.


How Exercise Can Lead to Being Sick

When it comes to stress on the mind and body, there are two types: Acute and Chronic. 

Acute stress is good because doing activities like HIIT training or a cardio workout only last for a short amount of time and trigger a good immune response. If we’re experiencing chronic stress, then it’s much more taxing on the mind and body.

The amount of exercise that you do can be a major factor of your health:

  • Out of those who don’t work out, 45% of them get sick on a regular basis.
  • 22% of Athletes tend to get sick, but….
  • 66% of elite athletes are more likely to become ill.

But if you work out and have a strong body, shouldn’t your immune system be strong?

Why We Get Sick From Too Much Exercise

If we regularly work out for at least 1.5-2 hours with little to no refuel besides water, our bodies are going to crash and burn soon. Working out doesn’t just narrow done to intense cardio like running, biking, or swimming – it goes the same for people who weight lift all the time or who work out a ton every day.

Besides intense workouts, there are also other factors:

  • Being outside where there are more airborne pathogens, germs, and bacteria.
  • You have less energy so you lower your body’s physical ability to fight back against germs.
  • Being an elite athlete is mentally taxing as well and lead to mental fatigue so that you feel sicker than you actually are.
  • Over training and under eating doesn’t help the body when it’s trying to recover.


Can I Exercise When I’m Sick?


“If you’re sick above the neck, you can still work out. If you’re sick below the neck, then you should take more time off to recover.” – Devon Dionne


Colds, sinuses, and allergies are all illnesses that are above the neck and so you can still work out, but go light.  Going on a brisk walk or doing a yoga class or light weights is okay and can help your immune system.

If you have an illness below the chest like bronchitis, deep cough, or the stomach flu, you want to take some time off.

With a fever above 101F or 38.3 C, you don’t need to go sweat it out, your body is already doing that on its own. It’ll be hard on your body to cool down and therefore harder for your body to fight the disease. Do not work out at all if you have a fever.

When’s The Right Time to Go Back to Working Out?

If you have an intense illness like the flu and you’re constantly in bed, start there. Focus on conserving all of your energy because your body is going to need it to recover. During the first week, don’t do anything; not even a walk. Then, during then second week – if you’re feeling better, do some brisk walks and then the next day some light weights but nothing extreme, all light exercise.

Space out your workouts with little cardio because your body isn’t ready for an intense workout regime.

If you have a lighter illness like a cold, then listen to your body. Workout if you feel like it, rest if you need it and see what your body wants.



Natural & Antibacterial Foods and Supplements

When you are sick, we recommend the following foods:

  • ginger
  • honey
  • garlic
  • coconut oil
  • lemons
  • turmeric with pepper
  • cabbage
  • bone broth
  • fermented foods
  • avocados
  • hard boiled eggs

Avoid processed foods and sugar and we don’t recommend the BRAT Diet (banana, rice, applesauce, and toast). Bananas are okay to eat when you’re sick,but this particular diet overall includes a lot of processed ingredients and sugar so we don’t recommend following it. Instead, we recommend sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin because they’re bland, but easy to digest.

Some of the best supplements when you are sick include:

  • echinacea
  • silver
  • turmeric
  • Vitamin C and D
  • a simple multivitamin
  • fish oils

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What You’ll Hear on This Episode

00:00 Open Sky Fitness Introduction

1:15  Opening comments with Rob and Devon

2:00 Check out last week’s show with Episode 177 with Alex Charfen: Structure Your Life For Better Wellness

5:00 Join our OSF Facebook Community

6:50 Today’s topic: Fit and Sick: Should We Exercise When Ill?

7:20  How does our immune system work?

9:50  Building an acquired immune system

12:00 Why getting sick can be a good thing to build your immune system

14:40  Developing a passive immune system

16:00 The good and bad effects that exercise can have on the immune system.

19:00  Dealing with upper respiratory infection (URI) during the winter.

22:00 Why doe elite athletes get more sick on a regular basis?

32:50  When to workout when you’re sick.

39:50 When to start working out again after being sick.

42:00 What are some natural, antibacterial foods to help us rebuild and replenish our bodies?

52:50 Beneficial vitamins and supplements for when you’re sick.

54:00 Closing comments with Rob and Devon

56:00  Sign up for our Sky Fit Challenge!

57:15 Open Sky Fitness Closing




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Thanks for listening/reading Episode 178 – Should We Exercise When Sick? Rest vs. Workout! We hope you have gained more knowledge on how to be a healthier you.

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