You’ve started hitting the gym regularly. You get 3-4 good workouts in a row in and then you get sick. Why does it seem like you get sick when you start a new fitness routine? You’re not alone and this is an actual thing – it’s not just your body betraying you, though it may seem like it.
So let’s look at what’s going on when this happens and the steps you can take to stop it from happening to you next time.
Stress on Your Body
While exercise is really good for your body, it is also a stressor on your body, especially if it’s different or more vigorous than you’re used to. That stress on your body can temporarily run down your immune system, making you more susceptible to germs and viruses. It’s similar to how your immune system can get run down if you’re lacking in sleep for too long. Think of it this way: your body only has so many resources to allocate. If it needs to move more resources to exercise and recovery, it has fewer resources to allocate to your immune system. So if you’re already sleep-deprived or exposed to a lot of pathogens, then you could get sick when you start a new intense fitness routine.
Gyms are a Germ Pit
I’m not being dramatic- they are a germ pit. Unfortunately, most people do not thoroughly wipe down their equipment after use. This means you’re sharing whatever they left on the treadmill before you. Free weights in particular are the dirtiest piece of gym equipment. In fact, one study found that free weights contain more than 300 times the germs found on a toilet seat. Sorry, but you needed to know. It makes sense when you think about it – how many times have you seen someone actually wipe down the weights before they re-rack them? Exactly. Never.
Your fitness classes are also very germy places. Yoga mats in particular are fantastic incubators for a number of infection-causing bacteria. And you can’t count on your neighbor wiping down her equipment as diligently as you do.
Add to this germy mix a rundown immune system and you have a perfect equation for a fitness de-railing illness.
Getting Enough Rest
For many of us, early mornings are the only times we can fit a workout into our busy schedules. Your body needs enough sleep to maintain all of its critical functions, including your immune system and healing. If you are just starting out with a 4 or 5 am alarm to get your workout in, that adjustment period can make you more vulnerable to getting sick if your body is accustomed to getting more sleep. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep each night when you begin cutting into that morning snooze to help prevent yourself from getting sick when you start your new fitness routine.
So what can you do to end the vicious exercise-sickness-exercise cycle?
Tips for Keeping Healthy
- Wipe down your equipment BEFORE and after use.
- Avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly.
- Bring your own towel . Some gyms transport their dirty and clean towels in the same bin, thereby recontaminating the clean towels with bacteria.
- Try to make sure you wipe your face with the side of the towel that hasn’t touched the equipment. You can do this by putting a mark on one side of your towel or using a towel that has a pattern on one side.
- Ease into your new workouts instead of running headlong in so it’s less of a strain on your body. You can do this by taking more modifications in your first class or starting your runs shorter or at a slower pace, for example.
- Do what you can to support your immune system – drink lots of water, take your vitamins, get enough rest, and eat lots of fruits and veggies.
- Make sure you are fueling your body. Eat healthful, whole foods rather than overprocessed, prepackaged foods lacking in nutrition.
- Make sure you clean off your own personal yoga mat regularly as well. It could be carrying germs from the last time your were sick and all that sweat on it can breed bacteria. Plus, it goes on the floor where people’s dirty shoes have been as well.
- Listen to your body – rest when you feel tired, give yourself enough time between workouts, don’t push it if you feel like you’re overdoing it.
Once you’ve gotten over this hurdle, be sure to check out my tips for keeping yourself motivated to workout so you can keep up the good work!