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Ester Marsh column: When to start exercising after an illness

Some people feel they are weaklings when they “give in” to the flu. There are so many medications out there that can manage your illness while struggling through it.

I do understand there are situations where you have no options, but working out is not one of those. What happens when you work out and you are sick?

If you work out while being sick, you can spread your germs around to others. Your body’s immune system is working hard to fight illnesses. When you work out, essentially your body is breaking down to rebuild again. Being sick, that rebuilding process comes to a halt, so you will be more sore, in addition to dealing with aches and pains from being sick.

Your body’s immune system is already compromised by being sick, so working out will only expose you to other germs and infections with a high possibility of getting sicker. So, how soon can I start working out after an illness?

Your best answer is to check with your doctor. There are many factors that impact your return to the gym. Your age, gender and level of fitness before you got sick all play a roll in how quickly you can return. After a fever, you need to wait at least 24 to 48 hours. If your glands are swollen or if you have severe congestion and muscle aches, you are not ready to exercise.

Before you go to the gym, try the 10-minute jog test. Jog 10 minutes in place and see how you feel. If you get out of breath quickly, if your heart rate is too fast or if you sweat to soon, you are not ready to return.

Listen to your body and follow instructions of your doctor.

If you are ready to start back, where should you begin?

Take it slow. After being sick, your brain and nerve communications have slowed down. Start with an exercise that is easy for both the brain and body. Activities like basketball or racquetball are too intense — try something like walking, swimming or cycling.

Start off easy. If you are used to working out five days a week, start back with two or three days a week. If you typically work out an hour or more, start with 30 to 45 minutes.

Reduce your workout effort around 20 percent. If you normally do 45 pounds on the chest press, start back with 35 pounds. Do this for one to two weeks, then move up 10 percent until you feel back to normal. Once again, listen to your body. Especially after an illness, don’t go for the “no pain, no gain” mindset.

Also, it is important to get adequate sleep, proper hydration and good nutrition. These three things are important even if you haven’t been sick.

Sleep helps your body rebuild. After an illness, your body needs more time to rebuild what has been lost. Dehydration is an issue while you are sick, so it’s imperative to hydrate during the illness and after. Proper nutrition can help you strengthen and rebuild your immune system. Check with your doctor to see if supplements are beneficial for you. Supplements such as vitamin D and zinc can help boost the immune system.

Being sick is taxing on the body, and it’s going to take time to get back to normal. Patience, body awareness and determination will get you back to your “old” self.

Ester H. Marsh is associate executive and health and fitness director of the JF Hurley YMCA.

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