Can too much exercise make you ill?

Drawing the line between healthy and unhealthy exercise

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

10 February 2021

Can too much exercise make you ill?

The short answer is that yes, occasionally exercise will make us feel a little less than fabulous. There are several reasons for this:

  • An intense workout can make the body feel fatigued and the muscles achy. These kinds of symptoms may persist for a couple of days and make you feel a bit ill as a result. The good news is it should ease off after a little rest, plus it may offer a reminder not to do quite as much next time around!
  • In a session, if you push yourself too hard, it may cause you to feel queasy. For example, you may have felt this yourself after a particularly challenging run or a tough spin class!
  • If you've recently had a bout of cold, flu or sickness, it won't do your body or immune system any favours to rush back into hard exercise. In fact, it actually makes it more likely you'll suffer a second infection or even recurrent infections. So, this is another reason why exercise may make you ill.
  • During extreme exercise, you may experience a stitch – a painful, tight sensation in the stomach. This is caused by the production of L+ lactic acid by the muscles and is an attempt to slow the body down and gain more oxygen when there isn't enough present. Experiencing a stitch can make you feel a little ill, particularly if you just try to push through the workout without giving your body a break.
  • Failing to prepare for your workout beforehand may also make you feel a little under the weather during an activity. If you haven't consumed enough water, for example, this may make your body dehydrated and symptoms such as low energy and dizziness can arise. Also, stocking up on unhealthy, sugar-laden foods, rather than fresh and nutritious options, will mean the body is ill-prepared to deal with the rigors of exercise and, yet again, issues such as nausea and fatigue may develop.

But... exercise is good for the immune system and a little goes a long way to keeping you free of infections. Plus, we all know the other benefits to be brought forth by a little bit of activity. Cardiovascular health, mood and energy are just a few areas to prosper!

So, the challenge is in creating a line between over-exertion and health-boosting exercise levels.

My Top Tip:

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How to avoid illness during exercise

If you've ever felt a little poorly after a workout, here are my tips for preventing it from happening again in the future.

  • Take time off your exercise schedule if you've recently been ill – tummy bugs, colds, flus and sickness all count as excuses for a little rest and recuperation.
  • Drink plenty of water before a workout – it doesn't have to be all at once, just in the lead up to your activity.
  • Get some energy – try a banana or a slice of wholemeal toast and peanut butter an hour before exercise.
  • Don't eat immediately before your workout to allow time for food to digest.
  • Avoid heavy foods, or a main meal, before exercising. If this means you have to change the time of your workout, it may be beneficial to do so.
  • Reduce the intensity of your workout when things get too much by turning your jog to a walk, for example. However, avoid stopping completely as this can be a bit of a shock for the body.
  • Warm up and cool down thoroughly before you exercise. Stretch out your muscles to begin with and then gradually get the heart beat up by doing things like star jumps and fast paced walking. Switch the activities around on your cool down to reduce the breathing and heart rate once again.

My self-care tip: Benefits of a cool down period after exercise

You'll never miss a cool down after your workout again after hearing about the benefits it has to offer!

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Get Active Q&A - exercise and sickness:

I've dug out a few common questions surrounding exercise and sickness, in case you were wondering about any of these specific issues.

Is it normal to feel sick after working out?

The short answer: no. If you are feeling ill on a regular basis, it's time to seek professional advice. It is likely that you are pushing your body too hard so speak to a personal trainer in the first instance to see what amendments can be made to your exercise regime, as well as your general lifestyle. It may also be a good idea to consult your doctor who can look into the issue in a bit more detail.

Can exercise cause flu-like symptoms?

Yes, this can happen. It may be linked to dehydration, poor nutrition or a host of other factors. We have a whole blog on the topic here.

Can exercise make you sick the next day?

In this instance, sickness is unlikely to be connected to your workout. Treat it as you would a general stomach bug and, if symptoms persist, speak to your doctor.

What are the symptoms of over-exercising?

Doing so much exercise that it makes you feel ill is likely to make you feel fatigued. Some other unwanted symptoms associated with over-exercising are sickness, dizziness and headaches.

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Cherry and Almond Protein Balls

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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Muscles and Joints advisor, I recommend Atrogel® Arnica gel to ease stiff, sore muscles after exercise.

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Did you know?

Peanut butter is a great food to fuel up on before a 5K or 10K because of its low GI, high carbohydrate and high protein content.

What to eat before a 5K or 10K

Recover the right way!

Balance Mineral Drink helps to replace electrolytes and reduce fatigue, making it the perfect post-workout recovery drink!

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