PUMPING IRONY: Don’t Just Sit There Feeling Sick — Do Something

Experts tell us you should use caution when exercising during an illness, but I say there’s nothing like a little sweat-drenched landscaping project to get you back on your feet.

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I’ve been a bit under the weather lately, courtesy of some malevolent virus. So I’ve been following the conventional wisdom and trying to take it easy — get more sleep, cut back on my workout routine, put some household projects on hold. All with an eye toward regaining some lost energy. I can’t say it’s been working.

Balancing Exercise While Sick

The experts tell us that too much exertion during an illness can make things worse. In this piece for WebMD, Alastair Jordan, MD, of Leeds Trinity University in England cautions against exercising whenever your malady is focused below the neck — except if you have sinusitis or are experiencing any dizziness. Aerobic exercise is generally OK, Jordan says, except that long runs might suppress your immune system.

Asked how long you should sit on the sidelines as you heal, Jordan is similarly vague. “It varies,” he says. “The general rule is: sniffle, three days. Full-blown cold, seven days. And about two weeks for flu. But it does depend on severity.”

Medicine is an inexact science, I realize, but this didn’t leave me with anything to counter my general inclination when grappling with an illness to just get up off my butt after a few days and do something. As my mom used to say, “Quit moping around and go outside. The fresh air will do you good.”

So yesterday morning after breakfast, I soldiered forth into the mid-morning sauna (86 degrees), grabbed a spade from the garage and set to work on a landscaping project I’d been obsessing over for the past couple of weeks. “Are you feeling better,” My Lovely Wife inquired as I headed out the door.

“I’m not really sure,” I replied.

“Well, don’t overdo it,” she ordered.

For the next couple of hours, I happily deleted some lawn, yanked some weeds, and schlepped several wheelbarrows full of mulch. At one point, our next door neighbor interrupted my toil to tell me he was considering installing a camera so he could vicariously experience the satisfaction of manual labor. “I’d probably even get tired watching you,” he said before wandering back indoors.

A few years ago, I probably would’ve stayed at it until that entire pile of mulch in the driveway had been moved to its appointed destination — or until I’d reached a point just this side of heat stroke. But I’ve learned a few things about my physical limitations in the years since I began experiencing physical limitations and left the rest of the job for another day — none the worse for wear, it seems to me.

So was that the best way to fight that stubborn virus that’s been dogging me these past few days? Who knows? Maybe the experts are all wrong about curtailing your exercise routine when you’re sick. Or maybe landscape work doesn’t really qualify as exercise. All I know is that I finished a project that’s been dogging me for a lot longer than this annoying bug. And that makes me feel pretty good.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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