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We’ve all been there. You finally feel you are on the right track with your fitness, you hit the gym regularly and feel you are heading somewhere. Then one morning you wake up with a sore throat and blocked nose and it feels like the whole world has conspired against you. What do you do? Get on your workout gear and carry on as usual or stay at home and hide under the duvet?
Both can be the right solution, depending on what the problem is. In this post, based on Precision Nutrition’s infographic I will explain how exercise affects your immune system and when you should or shouldn’t push your body in the gym.
The Immune System
Our body has two types of immunity: innate and adaptive. Our natural immunity relies on “built-in” defensive structures such as physical barriers (mucous lining in the nose), chemical barriers (stomach acids) and protective white blood cells that can destroy bacteria and virus. We also have a so-called acquired immunity that relies on certain type of white blood cells that can “remember” pathogens and fight them more effectively when “meeting” them again.
Why Do We Get Ill?
Very simply put, when our innate immunity can’t keep the invaders out and the adaptive defence isn’t responding quick enough against harmful invaders, it will try to create an environment where it’s hard for them to multiply or even survive. This is when inflammation comes in and we feel down or develop fever. Our body meets bacteria and viruses daily everywhere we go, when the barriers are not enough to keep them away, we fall sick.
How Exercise and Other Lifestyle Factors Affect Immunity?
In brief, not all workouts are made equal when it comes to how they affect our immune system. Exercising at a moderate intensity can boost our immunity, while endurance style vigorous and long workouts can have a depressive effect on the adaptive immune system.
It’s imperative that moderate exercise is part of your fitness routine on a regular basis to promote good health, however you should give your body long enough to recover after a tough workout before going all out again.
Other lifestyle factors like stress, length and quality of sleep, nutrition, age, your general fitness levels and even the climate where you live can all have an impact on your immunity.
What to Do When You Notice the First Symptoms?
This may sound like a cliché but for a good reason: listen to your body. As a rule of thumb if your symptoms are mild and only involve a little sore throat, blocked or runny nose, no fever and your symptoms stay mainly “above the neck”, you should indeed exercise. Stay in a low to moderate intensity zone though and focus on walking, jogging, stretching, yoga and light exercise.
If your symptoms get worse, you develop a fever, joint or muscle aches and feel like you might be onto becoming ill, then take a rest day and monitor yourself. If there is no improvement in your symptoms within a few days or they become worse, seek medical help and consult your doctor.
When Should You Start Exercising After Recovery?
The answer depends on the severity and the length of your condition. If you were sick for a week, you should give your body about a week to ease back into exercise. This means you cam start with light exercise and increase the intensity by session.
In general, let your symptoms be your guide and use common sense. If you struggle to perform your daily tasks, you might want to take a day or two off. If you’re snorting and coughing a little but otherwise your body feels fine, don’t miss a workout, just lighten the load and the intensity.
Feel free to get in touch f you have more questions on the topic!
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