Why exercising with a cough is dangerous

2016-10-26 06:00

AN annoying cough goes beyond the irritation of a tickle in the throat and can leave you feeling exhausted and lethargic. Trying to maintain a routine and continuing with a busy schedule when falling ill can have harmful long-term effects – particularly if this includes exercise.

Too often, people ignore the symptoms of a cold, writing them off as a minor issue and convincing themselves they can ‘push through’ and fight the illness by staying active. Even a short burst of mild exercise can put undue strain on the body and have real risks for the patient, says Dr Maki Ramagole, an expert in sports medicine.

“What we too often forget is that having a cough is an indication that you’re not well. When you exercise, your lungs have to expand to increase your oxygen intake. If you have a cough, your lungs aren’t able to do this,” explains Dr Ramagole. “Your body also uses up more energy trying to fight off infection when you’re sick. If you exercise while ill, your body’s energy levels are depleted and you won’t be able to recover as efficiently.” When you exercise, your lungs have to expand to increase your oxygen intake. If you have a cough, your lungs aren’t able to do this.

Real risks

The dangers of exercising when ill include the risk of ending up with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscles) which can be life threatening. Congestion of the lungs can also lead to oedema (build-up of fluid) in the lungs. This can be the case for mountaineers climbing at high altitudes – the fluid collection means the lungs can’t get enough oxygen into the body. If not addressed immediately with medical attention, this can also be life threatening.

Contrary to popular belief, the notion of ‘sweating out a cold’ is wholly untrue

In fact, exercising with a fever can have catastrophic effects on the body. The ‘neck rule’ (symptoms either above or below the neck) does hold some truth. If you have a ‘head cold’, a runny nose and mild congestion without a cough or fever, mild exercise is still safe. If the infection is in the lungs, with or without a fever, exercise is not advised. How soon is too soon? According to Dr Ramagole, anyone recovering from a cough, cold or flu should be cautious about resuming any kind of intense exercise. She advises the three-day rule when it comes to any illness with a fever: you need to be fever-free for three days before you exercise again. “Give yourself time to heal – see a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis, then rest and drink lots of fluids. Only when you’re feeling better, start with mild exercise,” says Dr Ramagole. “But pay attention to how you’re feeling and skip exercise if your body says so. If you feel any nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath or weakness, stop immediately.” -Health24

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