Updated 18 October 2019

When am I ready to exercise again after I’ve been sick?

Can you really lace up for that half-marathon if you've been in bed with flu all week? We weigh in on when you can safely resume your exercise regime.

Winter's here, which means you're more likely to pick up a cold or get the flu.

Whether you are training towards a specific goal or to incorporate exercise in your daily life, illness can disrupt your routine.

Rest is crucial for your body to recover and after a week or so your symptoms start to clear up. But when are you well enough to resume your workout routine?

What was the nature of your illness?

According to Dr Juliet McGrattan, a former general practitioner and keen marathon runner, you need to ask yourself what the extent of your illness was to determine whether you are ready to get going again.

Did you have a cold or flu? While cold symptoms may pass within a couple of days, an influenza virus can render you inactive for a lot longer. The longer you were unwell, the longer it’s going to take to normalise your exercise regime.

Let your symptoms do the talking

Experts go by the so-called “neck rule”. Dr Steve Cornell, a general practitioner from Cape Town, explains it as follows, “When your symptoms are mostly restricted to your nose and throat, your resting pulse is normal and you don’t have a fever or muscle pains, it’s usually safe to resume exercise. It is, however, important that you listen to your body and take it easy when you are not feeling well."

A raised heart rate and fever is your body’s way of fighting an underlying infection and if you are still suffering from these symptoms, you should avoid exercise.

If you have been suffering from a stomach ailment with symptoms like vomiting or nausea, you should keep in mind that you could be dehydrated and any strenuous exercise and sweating should be avoided until all your symptoms have cleared up.

If you are still following a course of antibiotics, you should preferably finish the course before resuming exercise. 

Take it easy

When your symptoms start to clear up, you might feel like you are ready to take on the world, but be mindful that your immune system is not yet up to speed. Whenever you do strenuous exercise, such as running a long distance or a fast-paced race, you compromise your immune system and it’s possible for you to have a setback.  

Your heart rate may also take time to normalise and if you push your heart beyond its limits, you risk damaging the heart muscle.

Test yourself

There are a couple of indicators that will help you determine if you are well enough to return to your normal exercise routine:

  • Take your heartbeat or pulse as soon as you wake up – a normal resting heartbeat (anywhere between 60 and 100 beats for an adult, depending on size, overall health and fitness levels) is a good indication that you are ready to start working out again.
  • Make sure that you can breathe normally and that there are no more signs of chest infection or phlegm.
  • Listen to your body – if you feel abnormally tired or out of breath, you might not be ready to resume your workout routine.

Follow these tips

Prevent a relapse by following these tips:

  • Ease back into exercise. If you are following a set training plan, consider repeating the week before you got sick.
  • Nourish your body by eating plenty of immune-boosting fruits and vegetables.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Stop feeling guilty. Illness happens and it’s not worth compromising your immune system by pushing through when you are not ready.

Image credit: iStock


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