Working Out When You're Sick

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 12:53

QUESTION: When, if ever, is it OK to work out when you're injured or sick? What do you recommend for a modified workout that will keep up your routine without worsening the injury or illness?

ANSWER: No. Sorry to be so blunt, but really, no. I get that maybe it’s your stress relief, your mood enhancer, your sanity etc. Or maybe you’re on a roll and don’t want anything tipping you off the wagon. However, if we look at this with a purely physiological perspective in mind, it’s simply not advantageous. 

We know that over time exercise improves our physical fitness pretty much in every way from cardiovascular health to bone density, muscle strength to endurance and so on. How is exercise doing this… by exploiting your body's stress adaptation response. For example: you blister your hand, over time your body adapts by thickening the skin into a callous. You lift weights and it stresses your bones, over time your body's inflammatory response sends bones cells and nutrients to heal the bone making it more dense. That’s a stress adaptation response. Why is this relevant to the question you might be wondering?

Because the point I’m making is that inherently exercise IS stress. When you are sick your body is already stressed by infection and needs all its resources to focus on fighting that infection, not recovering from the stress of physical fitness.

While I admire your dedication to yourself and your health, if your focus is taking the best care of yourself possible you will allow your body the time it needs to rest and recover. And, under no circumstances is this a time to get down on yourself about being disciplined and going to the gym - quite the contrary. It’s the time to be extra nurturing, caring, and loving with yourself.

Where you can be extremely proactive is with your nutrition. While you may lose several days of “gains” in the gym, if you aren’t over eating or eating garbage there really isn’t that much ground to lose with regard to your level of fitness and overall wellbeing from the week or so missed in the gym. In fact, you will find your body will bounce right back – hence the term “muscle has memory”. Which is actually the truth. Your body utilizes your epigenome, essentially “remembers” your level of fitness. Almost like a blueprint if you will – which is why getting back in shape is easier than getting in shape for the first time.  

Plus, you can be extra cognizant of eating incredibly well. Take all that energy you channel into your workouts and pour it into eating super foods that help boost your immunity like tea with Manuka honey, ginger, and lemon or fresh turmeric shots with a splash of oregano oil. Bone broth with freshly chopped garlic. You get the idea.  

And, consider practicing some meditations to help your body rejuvenate during the time you might be at the gym. Take a nap or a warm bath. Basically, get your chill on.

These types of habits should be practiced all the time, but if you are sick and can’t workout take advantage of the down time. Put it to good use by practicing other components of wellness that will not only help you heal, but will help keep you healthy in the years to come!