Sick middle age woman blowing her nose

Client Question: Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

Another great question from one of our exercise physiology clients in St Lucia:

Should I exercise when I’m sick?

In broad terms, moderate exercise and good fitness support good health. But improving your fitness levels doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never catch a cold or the flu. Here are your science-supported guidelines for exercising when you’re sick.

  • Consider how sick you actually are. If your illness is moderate to severe, with an associated fever, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, or swollen glands, skip your workout and rest up. Do what you would normally do to get yourself better, whether that’s heading to the doctor or heading to bed with some extra vitamin C.
  • If you are severely ill, with the above symptoms, you may need as much as two to four weeks away from moderate to intense exercise. Illness and exercise both stress the immune system in the same way, and depending on what type of viral or bacterial infection, pushing through to work out when you’re sick can actually make your illness worse. In extreme cases, this can lead to lasting damage to your heart or lungs.
  • If your illness is minor, without any associated fever, muscles aches or fatigue, or swollen glands, you might be ok to exercise. General guidelines suggest that:
    • If your symptoms occur above the neck (stuffy or runny nose, dry cough, or sore/scratchy throat), you’re safe to start with easy exercise or activity – think short sessions that are low intensity, like heading out for a walk. If you find your symptoms get worse, stop exercise until they improve.
    • If you’ve got symptoms below the neck (fever, aching muscles, vomiting, diarrhea, or anything else to do with your digestive tract), rest up until your symptoms go away.
  • Use your common sense. Do you feel too tired to work out, or otherwise just don’t feel up to it? Your body is giving you the answer right there! You wont make any gains when working out under fatigue or illness, and in fact you may prolong your recovery. Get some extra sleep and get back to quality exercise when you’re feeling ready for it.

Putting your workouts on hold can be frustrating, especially when you’re working hard to build your momentum and maintain your progress. If you’re feeling this, take a minute to step back and look at the big picture: You could push through and do your workout, but will it be worth it? You’re unlikely to make any gains in fitness, and may prolong your illness and recovery. We all need more sleep anyway, so indulge in that, get better faster, and get back to life as you want it!

For more information:
Gleeson, M. (Ed.). (2006). Immune function in sport and exercise. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 

 

Get started with a safe exercise that will improve your health and fitness with an in-home exercise physiology program from HealthFit Coaching. Regardless of your current health levels, you can safely work out to improve your health, fitness, energy levels, and quality of life. Contact us now to find out how.


Vitamin B12 rich salmon for lunch or dinner

Fast Facts: Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is also referred to as the “energy vitamin” thanks to key contributions to energy production. While daily requirements are quite low and your body can easily store large amounts of B12, some conditions and dietary choices can lead to low B12 levels. It is essential for red blood cell formation (needed to transport oxygen to the brain and all other body parts) and helps prevent nerve damage and peripheral neuropathy.

Without adequate B12, your body will struggle to produce energy at a cellular level, as the vitamin is active in many steps in this process. As well as nerve protection, a good B12 supply also acts to decrease the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular disease.

Dietary intakes in western cultures usually provide an adequate to abundant supply of B12, and in fact, deficiencies often stem from problems absorbing the vitamin rather than not eating enough of it. However, if you normally take certain medications or eat a primarily plant based diet, you may want to talk to your doctor to find out if a supplement will be worthwhile for you.

Vitamin B12 is involved in:
  • Production of red blood cells
  • DNA synthesis and production
  • Protection of the myelin sheath, the protective covering around nerves that helps transmit nerve signals
  • Support of the cellular processes that produce energy
  • Maintaining low blood levels of homocysteine, a protein that in high levels is linked to stroke and cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and peripheral vascular disease
Food sources of vitamin B12 include:
  • Fish and shellfish, especially salmon, sardines, tuna, cod, scallops, and shrimp or prawns
  • Lamb and beef, especially liver
  • Dairy products
  • Mushrooms
  • Fermented foods like tempeh
Getting too much vitamin B12 can lead to:

It’s almost impossible to get too much B12! There are no known signs of excessive levels.

Not getting enough vitamin B12 can lead to:
  • Neurological problems, including memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, mania, and psychosis
  • Neuropathy, or tingling, burning, or loss of sensation in a part of your body (often in hands or feet)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Depression
  • Migraine
  • Macular degeneration
  • Kidney disease
  • Shingles
  • Megaloblastic anemia, a condition where red blood cells are poorly formed
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
More on vitamin B12:
  • Plant based diets, especially vegan diets, are at higher risks of B12 deficiency as most food sources are animal-based. You may want to consider a supplement.
  • If you have acid reflux, and especially if you are taking an antacid, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) like Nexium or Prilosec, you may not absorb B12 from your diet. Talk to your doctor. You may want to consider a sublingual supplement (placed under the tongue to absorb).
  • Your ability to absorb B12 decreases with age, in part due to changes in digestion.
  • Some research has shown that vitamin B12 may help maintain bone density and generally support bone health. However, additional research is needed to confirm this.
Vitamin B12 combined with other medications and health conditions:

Taking vitamins may have adverse effects when combined with some over the counter or prescription medications, and some medications can decrease vitamin absorption. Some health conditions can be impacted by high vitamin B12 intakes. Talk to your doctor prior to increasing your vitamin B12 intake if you have or are taking:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Some chemotherapy medications. While B12 can interfere with the actions of some chemotherapy drugs, it can also protect against chemotherapy-related neuropathies. It’s highly recommended to have a conversation with your oncologist about whether you can take B12 supplements as a preventative measure for neuropathy.
  • Colchicine (also known as Cilicaine or Colcrys), used to treat gout.
  • Cholesterol lowering drugs
  • Medications used to treat high stomach acid, including proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid, or H2 blockers like Zantac, Pepcid, or Pepzan
  • Metformin, used to treat diabetes
  • Tetracycline-type antibiotics

Fast Facts: Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the best known micronutrients. However, the average daily intake is often lower than expected. You might not be getting as much as you think.

Vitamin C is perhaps best known for immune system support. Interestingly, while some immune cells need vitamin C to function (and you may be more susceptible to illness if deficient), there is no concrete scientific proof that increasing your intake makes a significant difference in the duration or severity of colds. Of course, if you’re otherwise generally healthy, it’s also not likely to do you any harm, as our bodies are excellent at secreting excess.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, working to help balance the body’s chemical reactions and prevent cellular damage from free radicals. It helps your body absorb iron and protects levels of vitamin E, and is needed to produce collagen (a key structural protein) and several neurotransmitters (the chemicals that carry signals throughout your brain and nervous system). It also plays an active role in cholesterol management, helping to convert cholesterol to bile acids, which in turn lowers cholesterol levels.

Much of the research on vitamin C has shown greater health benefits when you get your C through food rather than tablets or pills. Of course, eating whole foods provides you with many other nutrients as well, so food is almost always a better option than supplementation. Individual variation exists of course, so it’s worth trying a few approaches to find the right method for you.

Vitamin C is involved in:
  • Protecting cells from free radical damage, as an antioxidant
  • Improving dietary iron absorption
  • Regenerating vitamin E levels
  • Building collagen, an important structural protein
  • Production of norepinephrine and serotonin
  • Chemical transformation of cholesterol to bile acids
  • Maintaining the functional ability of some immune cells
Food sources of vitamin C include:
  • Citrus fruits (lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, etc.)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Berries and melons
  • Squashes and carrots
  • …and most other fresh fruits and vegetables!
  • Organ meat, if that’s your thing
Getting too much vitamin C can lead to:
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas and/or upset stomach
  • Increased risk of kidney stones

There is little to no evidence that high vitamin C intake from food sources leads to any signs and symptoms of excess intake.

Not getting enough vitamin C can lead to:
  • Poor wound and structural repair
  • Poor dental health
  • Poor immune response
More on vitamin C:
  • Vitamin C levels in food are quickly reduced by heat, oxygen, and storage. You can slow these losses by refrigerating your fruit and veggies and storing them whole.
  • Nicotine decreases the effectiveness of vitamin C, and smoking in particular leads to higher levels of free radicals, so tobacco users may need greater dietary intakes of vitamin C
  • Some research has shown that vitamin C may help slow plaque buildup in arteries and keep blood vessels more elastic, leading to decreased risks of heart attack and stroke. However, this research needs more support, and there is no evidence that taking vitamin C supplements will help (it needs to come from food sources to be protective).
  • Evidence also shows that people who eat diets rich in vitamin C are less likely to be diagnosed with arthritis, though there is no specific evidence that vitamin C supplements will help treat or prevent this.
Vitamin C combined with other medications and health conditions:

Taking vitamins may have adverse effects when combined with some over the counter or prescription medications, and some medications can decrease vitamin absorption. Some health conditions can be impacted by high vitamin C intakes. Talk to your doctor prior to increasing your vitamin C intake if you have or are taking:

  • Kidney problems
  • Regular use of aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen – These can increase vitamin C excretion. Somewhat confusingly, high vitamin C intakes can decrease drug excretion, leading to increased blood levels of the drug.
  • Regular use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) – High vitamin C intakes can decrease drug excretion, leading to increased blood levels of the drug.
  • Antacids containing aluminum – Vitamin C can increase aluminum absorption, which can make medication side effects worse. Aluminum-containing antacids include Mylanta, Maalox and Gaviscon.
  • Barbiturates – Including phenobarbital and others, these may decrease vitamin C effectiveness.
  • Chemotherapy drugs – Vitamin C may interfere with some chemotherapy drugs, though it is also speculated that vitamin C may make them more effective. Don’t increase vitamin C intake (or any other supplement) without talking to your oncologist!
  • Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – When taken with these drugs, vitamin C can increase estrogen levels; Oral estrogens can decrease vitamin C effectiveness.