I started week 3 of my challenge feeling quite under the weather. My husband had been suffering from a sinus infection all last week, and I must have been feeling sorry for him so I decided to contract one myself! The first thing that came to mind was, “I’ve been doing everything right! WHY am I SICK?!” After making a pot of chicken and vegetable soup, I sat down to get to the bottom of my dilemma.
The vast Internet had lots to say about why people who work out and are dieting may fall ill. Some of the simple answers were that gyms and other workout facilities are dirty, nasty places. Think about it, do you get off the elliptical machine to wash your hands after you sneezed or coughed? Nope, I didn’t think so. Hopefully we are conscientious enough to wipe down the machines after we use them, but let’s be honest not everyone is.
Another answer that ties in with dieting and getting sick is that your body can sometimes think that it is in survival mode if all of a sudden it stops receiving the amount of nutrients it is used to pre-diet. This in turn weakens the immune system, which basically makes you susceptible to getting sick if exposed to germs.
Now I’m about to release some science on y’all. After talking to my good friend, Doug, who is my mentor, works as a toxicologist and is a health freak (what 65 year old do you know that looks likes a Greek God?) he summed up why we get sick into the lack of basic hormone regulation. That hormone is cortisol. It belongs to the steroid family and the principal hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. Cortisol has two primary functions in the body, first it stimulates glucogenesis, the breakdown of fats and proteins into glucose (aka fuel for your body). Secondly, and why I studied its effects on the body, is that it activates anti-stress and anti-inflammatory pathways. Cortisol is one of the body’s main players in responding to stress. It is what fuels, along with other hormones like adrenaline, the “fight or flight” mechanism. When cortisol is released in this method it is in reaction to a stressful situation. Some studies suggest that we are not necessarily in as many physically stressful situations as our caveman ancestors, but we are under a lot of mental stress, which in turn releases cortisol. This is why stress has been linked to so many health issues, many of which are categorized as aging issues, such as heart disease, lowering bone density, depression and weight gain.
So, what does all this have to do with getting sick when we work out??? Here’s the answer ladies and gentlemen, physical activity like lifting weights and working out is a form of stress! Stress produces cortisol and weakens the immune system. So let me draw you the big picture…With the release of cortisol to combat physical stress we weaken our immune system, paired with the exposure to germs at the gym as well as lowered immune system due to your body going into survival mode due to dieting you have the perfect environment for catching a cold. When we are adding new stressors to our body, it sometimes responds by shutting down. I missed 2 days of boot camp class and a day of work because I was so sick.
What can we do to combat this? Here are a few suggestions I’ve found:
- Don’t go to the gym if you are sick! Come on people this is common courtesy.
- Wash your hands and equipment after working out.
- Change out of wet, sweaty clothes as soon as possible, you don’t want to add more stress to your body by catching a chill
- Take a multivitamin and zinc supplement
- Drink LOTS of water
- Reduce stress
- Get plenty of sleep
These are pretty common sense practices, but following these simple rules could help keep you in the gym working toward your goals. What do you do when you’re sick to get back on your feet faster? Leave me a comment and let me know!