Is it Safe to Go Running With a Chest Infection?
Keen runners will let little get in the way of their exercise regime, and will often head out for a jog whatever the weather, and whether they feel like it or not. Many people will continue to run even when they are sick, but is this a good idea?
Mild to moderate exercise is unlikely to worsen a cold, and may even give you a revitalizing energy boost. A chest infection, however, can be more severe, and running may in fact worsen your symptoms, as you are putting additional stresses on your body when it is already run down.
So how can you tell when it is ok to run, and when you should stay home and rest? And is it ever safe to go running with a chest infection?
What is a Chest Infection?
A chest infection refers to any infection of the airways, including the lungs. These are caused by airborne pathogens, which are released into the air in tiny drops of fluid whenever an infected person coughs or sneezes. The infection then spreads to other people when these droplets are breathed in.
There are two main types of chest infection in adults; pneumonia, and bronchitis. Bronchitis is an infection of the large bronchial tubes in the lungs, and is most commonly caused by a virus. Pneumonia is usually a bacterial infection, which causes the tiny sacs in the lungs to become filled with fluid.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of a chest infection range from mild to severe. Many start as a common cold, with sufferers experiencing headaches, a sore throat, runny nose, stuffiness, and sneezing. As the infection spreads deeper into the airways the symptoms become more serious, and may include:
Should You Run With a Chest Infection?
When deciding whether to run or rest, the main thing to consider is the severity of your symptoms. If your symptoms are above the neck, including stuffiness, a runny nose, a sore throat, and sneezing, it is still safe for you to run.
However, you should still be cautious, especially if you have the beginnings of a cough. Exhausting your body when you are already sick could cause the infection to worsen, and to become a chest infection.
If your symptoms are below the neck, and include a persistent, chesty cough, bodily aches and pains, fever, and congestion, you would be wise to take a few days off from exercise. At least three days of rest are recommended, to give your body the chance to fully recover.
What are the Risks?
Although you can still benefit from exercise when you are sick, intense cardiovascular exercise such as running is often a bad idea. This is because running puts a lot of strain on parts of the body that are already under stress from infection.
If you have a fever, running will cause your temperature to rise even further, whilst further increasing your heart rate may cause an irregular heartbeat. Aches and pains in the muscles caused by viral infections could heighten your chance of injury, and a decreased lung capacity caused by congestion could lead to exhaustion.
What’s more, running compromises your immune system to some extent, lessening its ability to fight off your chest infection.
This can cause it to spread deeper into the airways, which may lead to a more serious illness that is harder to recover from.
How Can You Adjust Your Training?
Many chest infections take several weeks to recover from completely, but the good news is that you only need to hold off running while you are symptomatic. This period typically lasts for 3 to 10 days, although you may continue to experience a dry cough that lasts for several weeks afterwards.
While it is usually safe to resume exercise with a dry cough, it is important to proceed with caution to prevent a relapse.
The best recommended course of action is to start slowly, with low-impact cardiovascular exercise such as a brisk walk, or light jog. As your strength improves, you can begin to add distance and speed to your run, until your fitness has improved.
The process of rebuilding your stamina after an illness can be frustrating, particularly for enthusiastic runners, but it is vital for your health that you are patient, and that you listen to your body.
Top Tips For Safe Running Following a Chest Infection
Although running with an acute chest infection is not advisable, mild to moderate exercise can still benefit you once your initial symptoms fade. Gradually rebuilding up your fitness after a chest infection can help to restore strength and vitality to your body, helping you to feel healthy again.
The benefits of regular exercise on your general health are diverse and far ranging, improving the long-term viability of your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system, and helping to prevent the onset of a wide range of illnesses and diseases.