When exercise hurts

Generally, anyone can benefit from a bit more exercise, but there are times when it's not good for you, or when you need to cut back on activities for health reasons – FitnessDoc answers questions regarding exercise and health.

Q: Flu and exercise

I've had a mild case of flu the past 2 weeks. I do cough a bit still, and my nose still runs every now and then. I know it's very bad for your heart to exercise when you're sick. So my question is, is it possible for me to start exercising next week Monday? I' m asking because I've heard that you have to stop exercise at least an entire month after being sick.

Expert: You can train very gently provided the symptoms have cleared from your body. The danger comes when you have aching joints and sore muscles. A runny nose - no problem. Even a slight cough is OK, but if your chest is burning and tight, then rather avoid exercise. You don't have to stop for a month, you just have to be cautious and rather err on the side of caution, giving your body enough chance to recover. The day or two that you lose early on makes up for it later on - if you push through the early symptoms, you might lose weeks later, so rather just be slow to return, and take it easy when you do. You'll know when your body is ready to go!

Q: When is it too much?

Please help me out here. I am a 36-year-old woman. I do about 1 and 3/4 hours of cardio training 4 times a week and 1x 100km road bike ride once a week, that's roughly 10hrs a week. I also do about half an hour of light weight training a week (I know this isn't enough). I train hard when I do, normally at an average HR of at least above 80%. I'm pretty fit and love training. My friends that I ride with, who are men and obviously stronger than me, keep telling me that I train too much. Do you think I train too much? Please help me clear this up!

Expert: It depends, some people would find this too hard, others not. It seems from your question that you are coping fine with it, and so that leads me to suggest that you just continue, and don't worry too much about overdoing it, yet. Having said that, there is definitely a point at which exercise can become excessive, and you have to be on the alert for these signs. 

The big one is failure to perform. You may find that your daily 1km swim takes a couple minutes longer, but you feel that you are working just as hard, if not harder. If that happens for maybe 2 or 3 days in a row, then it's a sign that you need a break and should rest, even if it's just for a couple of days. Some of the others are lack of sleep, irritability, loss of enjoyment etc. Any of these should set off alarm bells, if they persist for a long time. However, until such time, keep it up and enjoy training.

Q: Exercises for arthritis

I' m 25yrs old female, suffering from Arthritis, can you recommend me something that can help me to exercise. Something like DVD that is not expensive. I' m not working!

Expert: Swimming is a great way to train, as is aqua based cardio like aqua aerobics. I know that may not be the most accessible option, but it's a good one that you might consider trying out. 

The other option is cycling - less load on the joints, though again, it requires equipment. You could get away with no equipment, if you did something like taebo, but there are problems there like the impact. I'd be careful about that one. You can still get away with it, just like you could walk and run, but only if you were very careful about it. My advice, while it involves an initial cost, is to see a biokineticist about it, and have them prescribe some training that you can do - it's always better to start with expertise guiding you, and not to guess. Initial expense, yes, but a big saving and benefit later.

Q: Injured ankles

I injured my ankle 7 seven years ago by falling over my own feet while running downhill in heels. I went to my GP who did a little bit if infra-red therapy, and he just suggested rubbing the wounded area (the ligaments under my ankle) with Arnica oil. This worked and in a few short weeks my ankle was fine. In February this year, I went for my last hike, and I think I aggravated the ankle/made it worse by walking on the rocky beaches of Cape Point during this hike. As a result thereof, my ankle is now permanently tender. It keeps swelling up after excessive walking or standing and I afraid to get back into running because it feels like there is very little strength in my ankle. What do I do? And will I be able to run again?

Expert:  I suspect that it's a different injury, though your ankle is probably a little weak after that last injury. But 7 years is a long time, so whatever the problems back in 2002 would have been cleared up by now. SO I have a feeling this is a new injury, with the possibility that a weakness helped to cause it. 

My advice is to see a physio, which is probably not what you wanted to hear, but it needs to be assessed what the specific weakness and problem might be. Your ligaments might be really lax (loose and over flexible). But it's important to assess it and then make the treatment decision. You probably also need to rest it right now, because if it is swollen, it means it is inflamed and that is not good for it, so give it a couple of days of rest, then begin training.  I have no doubt that you will be able to run again. I think you will just need to strengthen the ankle really well, which might involve a couple of weeks of exercises (which the physio should give you) and then a gradual start to running and hiking, but it should be OK once it's stronger.

(Joanne Hart, Health24, November 2011)

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