Filed under: Illness
Is it safe to exercise when you’re sick? Those who have strict workout schedules aren’t likely to let the sniffles get in the way of their physical fitness. Exercise benefits include better weight control, improved mood, more energy, and healthier sleep. What’s more, just 30 minutes of regular exercise 5 times each week can improve your heart health and boost your immune system too.
Moderately exercising while you’re sick can be safe and, in certain cases, might actually improve symptoms such as congestion and low-energy. First, you need to determine “how sick is sick.” You can figure this out by using the “neck rule.” If you have symptoms above the neck—including sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, or watery eyes—then moderate workouts can continue. If your symptoms are below the neck—including cough, fever, fatigue, or body aches—then rest until the symptoms are gone. You can also use your temperature to determine whether exercising is okay. If you have a temperature of 101°F or higher, moderate or vigorous exercise isn’t safe due to risks of heat-related illnesses and dehydration.
Ultimately, the decision to exercise when you’re sick is up to you. If you’re too weak and fatigued to get out of bed, exercising might not be the best choice. If you have symptoms of a cold and your temperature is below 101°F, light to moderate exercise could be good for you. Make sure to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse.
Each year, the average adult catches 2–3 colds lasting 7–9 days each. That’s almost an entire month—YIKES! What you eat and drink each day can impact your body’s resistance to sickness. Want to keep the doctor away? Eat 9 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily.
Choosing nutritious foods when you’re sick shortens the number of days you feel badly and helps you feel better while you’re recovering. Here are some tips to help you get well soon:
- Grab a mug of chicken soup to clear your head and soothe your throat.
- Drink tea (black, green or white) to break up chest congestion and stay hydrated. Tea also contains a group of antioxidants, which could boost overall immunity.
- Take a spoonful of honey before bedtime to quiet a cough. You could also add honey and lemon juice to one cup of boiling water. (Not for kids under one year of age.)
These recommendations might have previously been considered folklore or old wives’ tales, but science now shows that Grandma knew best!
An important part of HPRC’s mission of fostering Warfighter resilience and optimizing Warfighter performance is informing you about the potential hazards associated with dietary supplements. But that’s a two-way street—we need your help too. An April 2014 article in The New England Journal of Medicine points out a major problem: Government agencies don’t get information about adverse effects of dietary supplements quickly enough from the public and healthcare professionals.
HPRC offers an easy way for you to directly report side effects you believe are associated with dietary supplements through the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD). Just go to our NMCD page and click on the icon for Natural Medicines Watch. You don’t even need an NMCD account; it’s free for everyone and easy to use. NMCD will make sure the information reaches FDA’s MedWatch.
Don’t hesitate to report something—you’ll be helping others avoid potentially serious health problems. Not sure about your symptoms? Read HPRC’s article about how to know if you’ve had an adverse event.
Performing physical activity—whether exercise or mission demands—at moderate (4,000–7,900 ft or 1,200–2,400 m) and high (7,900–13,000 ft or 2,400–4,000 m) altitudes can be challenging. At high altitude, oxygen pressure is lower, which results in less oxygen in the blood and muscle tissues. And as altitude increases, there’s a decrease in air temperature (about 2°F for every 500 ft or 150 m), less moisture (resulting in drier air), and increased solar radiation. Use sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and watch out for the signs of acute mountain sickness: headache, nausea, shortness of breath, and impaired cognition and balance.
To learn more about altitude sickness, read the article “The Invisible Enemy of the Afghanistan Mountains” on the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) website. And learn more about performance at altitude in the Altitude section of HPRC's Environment domain.
With current and future military operations in mountainous regions, the issue of acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a significant medical concern. AMS can affect anyone, military or civilian, who is unacclimatized and/or ascends too rapidly to high altitudes. Symptoms of AMS can include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and sleep disturbances. Recently, researchers at USARIEM were able to predict the severity and prevalence of AMS after rapid ascent to various altitudes. What they found was that for every thousand-meter increase in elevation over 2,000 m, a person was over four times more likely to develop AMS. In addition, the severity of sickness doubled, and the odds that the AMS would worsen increased almost five-fold. AMS appeared to peak at 18 to 22 hours of exposure to altitude and then went away after 42 to 48 hours. The severity of sickness is greatest above 4,000 meters and may require evacuation to lower altitude or immediate medical attention. It also appears that men are more likely than women to get AMS and more likely for it to be severe. For both men and women, the more active they were at altitude, the longer it took to recover. These findings support current recommendation to limit activity as much as possible in the first 24 hours at altitude to decrease the risk for AMS.
This information should help military leaders manage and perhaps prevent AMS among troops by knowing the elevation, types of activities, and lengths of stay at altitudes.
In order to reduce the risk for AMS, acclimate to moderate elevations (2,000 – 3,000 m) if/when possible. In addition, stay hydrated and try to limit your physical activity at altitude for the first 24 hours. Read more about the effects of altitude on performance and how to minimize your risk for AMS.