T oday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contained an article on illness and exercise that started out with sound advice and was mostly accurate about the benefits that regular, moderate exercise has on the ability to prevent illness. But as I continued to read there it was; the dreaded “rule of thumb” that it’s OK to exercise if your symptoms are above the neck and to rest if they are below it. This may be the worst advice in the fitness profession, with as much scientific basis as “No pain, no gain.”
One of the reasons to exercise and increase fitness levels is to improve our health. When our health is compromised by illness or injury, fitness becomes secondary and our primary concern should shift to healing and restoring wellness. The point of exercise is to challenge the body so that it repairs, adapts, and improves. The opposite happens when we punish the body.
Exercise can rob a sick body of the nutrients and energy that it needs to heal, making the illness worse and hurting performance. You also need to consider the possibility of infecting others, especially when working out indoors.
The best advice when you are sick is to rest, monitor your symptoms, and modify your workout schedule. When you are well again, gradually resume your activity.