Why do I get sick so often?
December 12, 2005 12:41 PM   Subscribe

I've been sick a lot in the last two years. And not just cold sick, I've had pneumonia and bronchitis at least 4 times a year. It seems to be triggered by physical work.

I'm 49 years old, and I have been feeling lousy for the last year. I keep getting sick. I am about 40 pounds overweight, and I have, several times, started exercise programs that I love and begin to do really well at. Like bike riding and spinning classes. But, every single time, about 3-5 weeks into my program, I come down with a major illness. Usually bronchitis, pneumonia or the flu. It takes, easily, three weeks to recover, and then I'm weak and out of shape and lose interest. I have tried starting slower, pacing myself, vitamins, healthy eating. I'm going to my doctor today because, once again I have a serious infection of some kind. My tempurature is at 102 and climbing. I just survived something like this three weeks ago. But, I don't think my doctor's going to believe that there's a connection. And I can't blame him. It sounds nuts! But, dammit, it's true. I can't pretend it's not related. Has anyone ever heard of this? Could a person have some kind of compromised immune system that is worsened by strenuous (for me) physical activity? I know no one here is a doctor, but I'm hoping someone here has experienced this or knows someone who has.
posted by joaniemcchicken to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Gyms can be germy places. You should also check to see if there is anything else that maybe compromising your immune system but that could be really anything and especially if you have no other symptoms.
I have a friend who loves the gym and stays sick (she also takes advantage of the gym child care). I am convinced I contracted a stomach flu from the gym last spring.
Until then I would try excercising at home with your very own germs or maybe just go to gym for the class, stay out of the locker room. Change into workout clothes before you leave home (I know...that's not so stylin') and make sure you wipe down your machine before and after you use it.
I know it really sticnks that you are trying to be healthy but can't stop getting sick.
I hope you feel better and find somethign that works for you.
posted by TheLibrarian at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2005

There are studies that show that your immune system weakens temporarily after hard exercise. It tends to bounce back higher after the fact and regular exercise will help improve it, but a really hard work does take it out of you. Taking in carbohydrates and glutamine afterwards seems to help. Starting slower and pacing yourself is a huge deal, a lot of people really throw themselves into working out and it one of the symptoms of overtraining is chronic infections. Pick up a heartrate monitor if you don't have one already and use it to stay within the right zone. This will make a huge difference. Figure out your resting heart rate and take it very easy (or take a day off) if you wake up with a higher resting heart rate than normal.
posted by hindmost at 1:07 PM on December 12, 2005

The first two or three weeks of an exercise program hits the whole body hard. Seriously eat lots of yogurt (every day) take a multi and C (the C throughout the day) make sure you are getting enough fruit juice but avoid refined flour and sugar...

Sleep for nine hours ever night minimum.

Your body is telling you that you are over working it.

There is no such thing as over training. There is only under eating and under sleeping.
posted by ewkpates at 1:22 PM on December 12, 2005

chronic infections aggravated by exercise is a cue for low level asthma. see an allergist.
posted by 3.2.3 at 1:23 PM on December 12, 2005

How is your hydration?

You need to push fluids before, during, and after exercise, especially if you do Spin. (I am a Spin fanatic myself.) Especially in the beginning of an exercise program, take a day off in between sessions. I also second the sleep recommendations.

And for goodness' sake get a heart rate monitor especially if you do Spin. Remember that a lot of instructors push too much instead of following their program instructions, so listen to your body and don't push yourself to the total limit every last time.
posted by konolia at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2005

Do you have diabetes?
posted by gramcracker at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2005

You are probably hyper-ventilating while exercising. This will decrease your immune system significantly. Try out the control pause test from here. If it is 20 seconds or less then you are hyperventilating. Before going back to an exercise program do some breathing training for a while. Try to get a CP of at least 40 seconds before you restart exercising. There is alot more info on that site.
posted by blueyellow at 2:44 PM on December 12, 2005

As 3.2.3 said, this is sometimes an asthma symptom. I used to have bronchitis frequently, and then I started to also have breathing problems when exercising. I was diagnosed with asthma, and once that was treated, the breathing problems went away, and I stopped getting bronchitis all the time. So it would not hurt to be evaluated for asthma.

FWIW, I almost never audibly wheeze when I am having an asthma attack -- I usually just cough. This is probably why it wasn't diagnosed until my thirties, but in retrospect I had clear symptoms long before that.
posted by litlnemo at 2:49 PM on December 12, 2005

Holy cow. I am doing everything wrong. I have done everything hindmost says is harmful, and I certainly am not eating or drinking anything after the exercise to replenish anything I've lost. Also, I am scheduling an appointment with my ENT. I think I might have either a low level asthma, or a chronic low grade sinus infection. And, no gramcracker, I don't have diabetes. But, ewkpates, I have horrible insomnia. It's one reason I want to exercise. It helps me sleep better.

My doctor today diagnosed me with the flu. But, after I am better, I'm getting out my fancy heart rate monitor and staying at 50-60% of my max heart rate, at least for the first few weeks. It's hard because I don't see results, and it's really slow progress, but I will just have to readjust my thinking. Also, I think those breathing exercises could help me. I have trouble getting enough air, and my breathing is often short, fast and shallow. Thank you so much, all of you, I found real answers here.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 5:36 PM on December 12, 2005

Get your thyroid checked. My brother had these exact symptoms and it was a thyroid malfunction, overactive in his case.
posted by fshgrl at 5:56 PM on December 12, 2005

Do you bite your nails? I know someone who developed terrible bronchitis annually until she stopped gnawing her claws, and has been healthy since.
posted by Scram at 6:05 PM on December 12, 2005

"I have trouble getting enough air, and my breathing is often short, fast and shallow."

Yes, I always had that problem, and I attributed it to being out of shape -- but then, when I was in good shape (competing in sports) it never got better. In hindsight that was the first clue that I had exercise-induced asthma. (There are other triggers too, but that was the first one we figured out.)

Anyway, when I got asthma symptoms, I would tend to be more susceptible to bacterial infection in the lungs. Therefore, bronchitis a few days later. (Pneumonia less often, but I did get that occasionally too.)

Scram, I bet that yearly illness is from putting the germy fingers near the mouth, as we are always warned not to do. :)
posted by litlnemo at 6:19 PM on December 12, 2005

I realize that my two posts sound inconsistent -- one says "started to have breathing problems" and the other says "I always had that problem". Just to clarify, both are true. I always got winded easily, more easily than I should have. But it took a sudden turn for the worse and that is what led to the asthma diagnosis. I had been figure skating a relatively short free program, which I could get through just fine, then almost all at once I couldn't get more than 2/3 of the way through the program during practices. I just couldn't get enough oxygen. And getting sick with bronchitis a few times a year didn't help. :/
posted by litlnemo at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2005

Just to throw this in...I inevitably will get a cold/flu when I restart my exercise program. I've been lucky enough that it was never bad enough to completely wipe me out where I had to start completely over.
posted by dking at 8:39 PM on December 12, 2005

I have a friend whose constant bronchitis and other respiratory ailments were traced to chronic neutropenia. You may wish to have a complete round of bloodwork conducted to see if this (or some other blood-related ailment) is causing your problem.
posted by Irontom at 8:14 AM on December 13, 2005

Everyone, thank you for your excellent answers/advice. I feel ven if you didn;' want to mincredibly relieved that, yes, strenuous exercise could be making me sick. A lot of the information just clicked as I read it. Of course a 49 year old 40 pound overweight person cannot just get on a cycle and spin like an angry hobbit without drinking enough water. Or taking in lost nutrients and other stuff that my middle aged body needs to recover and repair itself. Duh.

But, I think I might also have low level asthma, which is something I would never have thought about. I mean, I don't have any breathing problems, unless I'm exercising. And I cough a lot then. I never put it together. I thought it was normal.

I know you aren't doctors, but this was exactly the kind of information I was hoping to get. Just some anecdotal evidence that exercise can trigger illness. I'm not crazy. Well, I'm crazy, but not about this.

AskMeFi rocks. I would make out with all of you, if I could. And I know that is your dream: to make out with a middle-aged, overweight, slightly asthmatic lady.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2005

Crap, forgive the spelling errors. That second sentence was supposed to say: I'm incredibly relieved that, yes, strenuous exercise could be making me sick.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 10:18 AM on December 16, 2005

Heh, I always thought my coughing and being out of breath when exercising was normal too. Because for me, it was! :)
posted by litlnemo at 12:43 AM on December 17, 2005

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