by Sifu (Dr.) Rikin Patel MD
With another school year just beginning we, as paediatricians, brace ourselves for a huge influx of children visiting emergency rooms. School = infection contact risk.
As parents and martial artists, many of us may not know what is ideal in terms how much to push children or ourselves with physical activity when sick. This becomes even more important for those getting ready for gradings, have targets to reach and can’t afford to sit out too long. It’s such a common topic, the Canadian Pediatric Society provides some insight for all of us.
Without getting too technical, exercise impacts our immune system. Adrenaline in our body rises during exercise and this stimulates the immune system to produce cells that fight bacteria and viruses. However, at high intensity exercise for a sustained period the immune system in fact gets suppressed (both quantity and quality) which may contribute to infection susceptibility. Simply put, exercise as stress on our body up to a point can be helpful but when too high in fact can put us at risk when we are sick or healthy.
Research shows that the relationship between the amount of exercise and incidence of infection forms a ‘J’ curve. It is believed that people who exercise at a moderate level have enhanced immune function and may experience fewer illnesses and shorter duration of illness, such as a cold, compared with those who do not exercise at all.
The best scenario is prevention, however I realize that is not always possible….just come to work with me for a day.
Should we train when sick? That’s not clear cut. In general, decisions about whether to continue exercising during an illness can be made using a ‘neck check’. If symptoms are confined to above the neck, such as a runny nose, nasal congestion or sore throat, you may continue to participate as long as you feel able. Personally, I followed this unknowingly over the years and when I came to Kung Fu and “sweat it out” I always felt better the next day. Mental toughness matters though so know thyself.
When do we come back after being sick? Depends on the type and location of the infection. In general, consider it when your symptoms are reducing and at least no fevers for minimum 24hrs.
Finally, out of respect to your classmates and instructor if you are sick or recovering please mention it to the instructor and partners in class. You may be contagious. That’s common sense and hopefully we can make it common practice.
To conclude, here are some final tips for everyone to keep us all healthy and avoid illness:
- Get adequate sleep (8-12hrs for children depending on age)
- Do not skip meals
- Hydration with water (how much? 30ml/kg of weight)
- Wash hands frequently (hand sanitizer should be like keys and wallet in a bag)
- Allow adequate recovery time following intense exercise
- Do not share water bottles or towels