Whether it’s figuring out to what extent exercise can prevent illness, or to what extent illness prevents exercise, it’s important for fitness fans to know more about the connections between the two. It’s essential that you speak to your doctor about specific concerns, of course! But this guide to exercise and illness will help you get to grips with some of the basics.
Boosting the Immune System
The immune system and exercise have a strange and fascinating relationship. It’s also one that’s widely misunderstood. If you want to ensure you get the most out of your exercise when it comes to dealing with illnesses, it’s best that you get to grips with some of the basics. Research has shown that regular exercise can definitely boost the immune system in the long run; those who work out three times a week or so tend to get sick less often. But if you have a really vigorous, heavy-duty, long-lasting workout? Then your immune system may be temporarily weakened. This is why so many marathon runners feel ill within 72 hours of their performance!
Above and Below the Neck
So if you’re feeling ill, should you exercise? There are a few things to consider here. For many people, there’s a particularly useful gauge: if your symptoms are above the neck, then you’re probably good to go. If it’s below the neck, you should take it easy and avoid exercise. Some may find that above-the-neck symptoms prevent them from exercising unless they take something to ease the symptoms; here are a couple remedies that may help. Below-the-neck symptoms tend to include aches, muscle weakness, fever, and problems with the lungs and stomach. Exercising with such issues may make things a lot worse.
Exercise as a cure?
Some may argue that exercise will help you cure your illness faster. Because of the relationship between exercise and the immune system, this may seem to make sense – but it’s a specious argument. Certainly, a brisk walk can help expand your lungs and make breathing easier if your illness is making that difficult. But, in general, there’s no real science behind the idea of exercising so much that you help force the illness away, as though exercise were some sort of exorcism and illness merely a demon! Put focus on exercise when you’re not feeling unwell, and reduce the intensity of your workout if you are unwell – or, again, consider avoiding it altogether if the symptoms are below the neck.
The Dangers of Stress
Another strange but well-documented biological relationship? Stress and illness. Long-term stress isn’t simply a psychological problem, the way most people see it. Stress manifests itself physically, which is precisely why it’s so bad for your health in the long term. Specifically, it can play havoc with your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and even exacerbating the symptoms if you do get ill. Something similar can be said for depression. Exercise helps relieve both of these problems, which is partly why it’s so good for long-term immunity boosting. If your illness is being exacerbated by either, then consider some light exercise to help banish them.
Ally Gonzales is the founder & editor-in-chief of RunningSoleGirl. Along with blogging she is also juggling attending college and majoring in Exercise and Sports Science with a Sports Management minor.