Exercise and Illness

Spring is here and so is the marathon season.

The London Marathon has been and gone, but many of you will still be preparing for other events. Have you thought about what to do if you are unwell?

Sadly we are all aware of young and fit people who die suddenly whilst enjoying their sport.

Sometimes this is attributed to an undiagnosed heart condition or serious asthma, but you may be surprised to learn that it can be caused by a simple virus. These infections can cause inflammation of heart muscle, called myocarditis by the medics. This disrupts the pump action of the heart causing shortness of breath, a disturbance in heart rhythm and, in some cases, sudden death.

There are no hard and fast rules, but the English Institute of Sport does have some guidance for us.

  1. You should never train or exercise with a fever. Exercising with a temperature of 38 centigrade or above reduces immunity and so prolongs illness as well as promoting myocarditis.
  2. You can monitor your heart rate. It’s a good idea to know what your resting heart rate is when you’re well. If it’s 10 beats above resting rate then don’t train or exercise.
  3. Location of symptoms is important; use the “above or below the neck” test. General advice is that you can work out gently if you have above neck symptoms such as a runny nose, a slight sore throat or are stuffy – but be careful. However you should not exercise if you have below neck symptoms such as a cough, if you’re chesty or have abdominal upsets pain.
  4. You should return to exercise slowly making sure you are well hydrated. Monitor how you feel, increasing exercise little by little over a week to 10 days to where you were before illness.

The experts say that it is the quality of exercise that improves our fitness, not quantity. So be sensible. On your marathon day, if you feel unwell please don’t run… however much the sponsorship.

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