Exercise, Aging, and Health – When is Enough Too Much?

There’s really no reason to stop exercising as we age, except, of course, when your doctor recommends it, but we do tend to slow down when we’re sick or injured and from time to time, exercise just hurts.

As an active adult, you may be wondering how much exercise is too much if you’re not feeling well? And how do you know which symptoms are cause for concern when it comes to completing your daily exercise routine.

According to Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. of Mayo Clinic, “Exercise is usually OK if your symptoms are all above the neck,” which correlates with “Below the neck symptoms – probably shouldn’t exercise. Either way, you’ll want to check with your physician before undertaking even mild exertion in case the cause of your symptoms is serious.

Minor illnesses like congestion, sneezing, or sore throat, may not be cause to suspend your exercise, but, depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may want to hold off a day or so when you’re feeling especially bad (or injured).

First let’s talk about when NOT to exercise.

The eDocAmerica Health Tips website offers some broad advice—do not exercise if you have the following symptoms:

  • Fever, body/muscle ache, or overall fatigue.
  • Chest congestion, wheezing breath, or a consistent cough.
  • Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting (for obvious reasons).

But what if you don’t feel that bad?

Depending on your personal level of comfort you may be able to exercise if you have symptoms such as the following:

  • Runny nose.
  • Head or nasal congestion.
  • Sneezing.
  • Minor sore throat.

It makes sense that, if you feel miserable, you should take a few days off from exercise. But here are some alternatives you might consider so you can still be active:

  • Do a lighter routine.
  • Reduce the length of your workout.
  • Walk instead of run.
  • Hike on flat ground instead of inclined.
  • Consider indoor exercise, rather than outdoors in inclement weather.

If you get tired really quickly, or your muscles hurt more than usual during your workout, try something less strenuous until you can perform at your peak level and you’ll be able to remain active, get plenty of exercise, and more than likely feel better overall.

  1. Prevent Disease – Even light exercise, especially walking, can be a powerful tool for helping with disease management. The benefits of exercise are nearly endless.
  2. Social Engagement – Whether it’s a walk along a paved trail, or a rousing game of pickleball, exercise can be a social activity as you are. The elderly often are isolated by age or frailty, so the ability to attend any sort of exercise can contribute to fighting loneliness or depression. Improved
  3. Mental Health – Exercise produces endorphins, which in turn, provide feelings of wellbeing. Exercise also acts as a stress reliever and has been linked to improving sleep.
  4. Decreased Risks of Falls – As we age, we have a greater chance of being seriously injured by a fall. Regular exercise can improve strength and flexibility which contribute to better balance.
  5. Improved Brain Function – Oxygen is good for the brain. Exercise increases the oxygen flow throughout your body. Regular learning like reading a book or solving a puzzle contribute to brain health as well.

Bottom line: Does exercise lower your chance of getting sick?

eDocAmerica says, “Yes, but with exceptions.” People who take part in moderate exercise on a regular basis (around 150 minutes per week) are shown to have fewer respiratory infections than people who get little to no exercise. However, it goes on to say, people who push beyond normal exercise limits, or for excessive time periods, have more respiratory infections than people who perform moderate exercise.

If you’re thinking of starting or altering your exercise routine, or if exercising worsens any existing conditions you should make an appointment to see your healthcare provider to be sure you can exercise safely.

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