Why do I seem to be *less* healthy when I exercise??
February 9, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Why do I seem to be *less* healthy when I exercise??

I'm a 28 year female who's generally pretty healthy, gets by on 6 hours sleep a night, and has never done much exercise until now. I'm also very germ-conscious and wash my hands properly (min 15 sec.) at least 8 times a day.

Last year I decided I wanted to get into shape for summer so I spent 3 months doing weights training with a personal trainer, twice a week, an hour each session. I was incredibly tired and run-down and sore the entire time, and also got bronchitis a few weeks in!

This year I've been going to the gym 3 times a week since January, and I workout for 45 - 60 minutes each time doing something high intensity like running or a bounce class. After about 2 weeks in I noticed I was needing more sleep, I was more tired during the day, and then this week I got a cold that kept me in bed for 2 days when normally I'd be unlucky to get one cold a year and that in winter.

So my question is - why do I seem to be MORE tired and get sick more often when I'm exercising, than when I'm not. I'm definately not doing so much exercise that it should be suppressing my immune system, and I should have been at it for long enough now that my body would have adjusted to the strain?

I'm just left thinking that when I *don't* exercise I need less sleep, I have more energy, and I get sick less often, even though that seems to defy all the evidence for exercise making you healthier and giving you more energy.

Any idea what's wrong with me, or is this normal?? I would really appreciate any help / advice you can give me :)!
posted by katala to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it has something to do with your diet?
posted by ofthestrait at 4:08 PM on February 9, 2008

I think it is the lack of sleep that is doing you in, not the exercise. Your body needs time to recover and I don't think 6 hours is enough. Try getting an extra hour or two and see if it makes a difference.
posted by 45moore45 at 4:10 PM on February 9, 2008

Well, for one, it sounds like your body needs more than 6 hours to recover from the workout. There's a lot of muscle rebuilding it probably needs to do, so try getting at least 7-8 hours.

One theory: I've found that the more in-shape I am, the colder I generally feel because my resting heart rate is lower and thus my body doesn't produce as much heat.

The most probably cause, though, is that you're crammed inside a gym, which given the heat and moisture generated by all the people working out, is probably the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and the like. Try to find a gym with better air circulation.
posted by spiderskull at 4:12 PM on February 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you eating enough? Sounds like you're tiring out because your body isn't getting enough calories to keep going.
posted by SassHat at 4:13 PM on February 9, 2008

Holy crap, this is me!! EVERY time I start an exercise program - no matter how light it is (ie walking a mile a day) I come down with a terrible cold that will last at least a week (and usually runs 2 weeks). It started happening about 13 years ago and it has persisted. It's not diet. It's not sleep. It's not that I go to a germy gym (I walk on the treadmill at home). It's something else, and I have not been able to find out what the phenomena is. This link suggests we are not alone. Two weeks ago, when this happened, I just worked through it. I don't know what else to do - I want to exercise but how can I if every time I attempt it I'm sick in bed for the next two weeks?

I wish I could help you. (Also I think there was a similar thread to this about 2-3 weeks ago).
posted by Sassyfras at 4:24 PM on February 9, 2008

Here is that other AskMe question that you may find interesting.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:29 PM on February 9, 2008

Me too! I hate it! I have had no idea what is going on. It is bizarre.

I guess the only good news is that, back when I could afford a trainer, I pushed on through and got less sick after working out regularly for, um, 3 months or so.

But those three months sucked.
posted by jeanmari at 4:35 PM on February 9, 2008

Your body is doing something new which is an additional stress on your system. Once your body is accustomed to higher levels of exercise, you probably won't have this problem.

I train with a bunch of marathoners. The people new (or returning) to marathon training all get sick about 8-12 weeks into the training season. It happens like clockwork every marathon season - a wave of the illness comes through and wipes out the newbies. Those of us working at a steadier state usually avoid the cold or get just a touch of it. We've been out training with the sneezy and coughy people, but our bodies fight it off a bit better.
posted by 26.2 at 4:45 PM on February 9, 2008

This year I've been going to the gym 3 times a week since January, and I workout for 45 - 60 minutes each time doing something high intensity like running or a bounce class.

If you aren't very fit to begin with, high intensity for 45-60 minutes can be quite a lot of cardiovascular exercise. A month is very little time to build up cardiovascular fitness, especially if you are over-training. I'd suggest starting with something like 15-30 minutes of low intensity exercise and then building slowly from there. You can't just expect to show up at the gym and start running at high intensity for an hour: your body isn't used to it and so you are over-training (and consequently feeling tired and getting sick). The feeling of increased fatigue and greater susceptibility to colds and flus is one of the signs that distance athletes look for to identify over-training.

I'd also recommend using a heart rate monitor to help control the intensity of your exercise. Most people tend to exercise far too strenuously to maximize cardiovascular benefits in the long term. You'll probably be surprised how easy exercise can be.
posted by ssg at 5:01 PM on February 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would agree about the sleep thing. You probably need more than 6 hours. It might've been fine when you weren't exercising, but you're putting your body through more than it's used to while not allowing it any more time to recuperate. Diet may also be a factor, as you're burning through nutrients quicker and perhaps not replacing them as much as you need to.

Also, as has been mentioned, it is a communal space, so be extra clean when you're there and wash up well afterwards.
posted by wondermouse at 5:04 PM on February 9, 2008

This year I've been going to the gym 3 times a week since January, and I workout for 45 - 60 minutes each time doing something high intensity like running or a bounce class. After about 2 weeks in I noticed I was needing more sleep, I was more tired during the day, and then this week I got a cold that kept me in bed for 2 days when normally I'd be unlucky to get one cold a year and that in winter.

I think you're totally overdoing it. 45-60 minutes of high intensity right off the bat is probably stressing out your system. The Couch to 5k program, revered by many on this site and everywhere, doesn't have you running half an hour until the ninth week. I know it's frustrating to take it slowly but you should be trying to set the foundation for a lifelong habit, and the way you're going you'll just get burnt out and give up, and then you'll be back at square one.
posted by granted at 5:11 PM on February 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

It sounds completely intuitive that, if the only thing you change about your life is the amount of exercise you're doing, you'll be more tired. People who exercise properly also need to eat and sleep properly, but people who don't do anything all day are usually ok eating shit and not sleeping enough. While exercise does make you healthier, it is not the fact of exercising, but the effects it has on your body. If you aren't eating and sleeping well enough to allow your body to get those effects, then all you get out of it is exhaustion, including a tired immune system.
Also: seconding granted on the Couch to 5k idea. You can't just jump in and be fit, you have to become fit!
posted by jacalata at 5:38 PM on February 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had the same problem every time I've started an exercise regimen. I always overdo it, and I always get sick. I suggest you take some of the advice here and ramp down your workout.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:41 PM on February 9, 2008

nthing sleep. I certainly need more than 6 hours when I am running a lot, and I'm pretty sure I got sick during my last training cycle in part because of a few days of too little sleep. It's entirely normal for exercise to necessitate more sleep; for example, a rule of thumb for running is an extra minute per night of sleep for each mile run per week.
posted by epugachev at 5:41 PM on February 9, 2008

You need supplements. A B-12 shot from your doctor (better than pills) and take Arnica Montana or Traumeel (sublingual pill- 300mg) for soreness.

Your trainer should be telling you all of this. Very strange.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 6:40 PM on February 9, 2008

Your body also needs rest. Maybe you could get by on 6 hours when you're not exercising, but it's probably not enough when you are. Remember, exercise is basically beating your body down temporarily, so that when you rest, it recovers to an even stronger state. Exercise draws on resources your body would normally be using to defend itself against infection, so you may need to a) supply more nutrients and b) rest more than you did before.
posted by knave at 7:07 PM on February 9, 2008

Nthing all the people who say you need rest. 45-60 minutes of high intensity exercise, even done only three times a week, is a lot of stress on an untrained body. Try ramping it down, or doing 15-20 minute sessions 4 or 5 times a week.

Needing more sleep is natural. You've increased the stresses on your body, and until it adapts (and your body becomes healthier) you're going to need more time to recover from them.

Make sure your diet is dialed in. You need plenty of protein, healthy fats, and any carbs you are getting should be coming from vegetables and very whole grains and fruits. Make sure you're drinking plenty of water and take a multivitamin if you find your diet lacking.
posted by schroedinger at 7:43 PM on February 9, 2008

Re: tired. You body is making you sleep because it needs the energy to rebuild the muscle you are breaking down during your workouts. You can help this with a diet shift -- more protein and, yes, even some of those dreaded carbohydrates. (This is based on an assumption about your current diet, that may or may not be true.) It will also get better as your level of fitness improves.

Re: sick. Gyms are veritable petrie dishes. The only thing the spreads sickness more effciently than a gym is having a small child around. Nasty but true. Washing hands is the best defense, but it will take some time to build a stronger immunity.

It is worth it to find a way through your issues. Sickness and fatigue are temporary and can be resoved. Fitness is for the long term.
posted by dzot at 8:14 PM on February 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

You need to do low intensity-that is, lower than 75% heart rate intensity-and nothing BUT low intensity for 8 weeks. That's what is known as building base.

When you do too much too soon, your body cannot recover quickly enough.

I am a fat and fluffy gym rat and I RARELY get sick.
posted by konolia at 9:04 PM on February 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're suddenly expending a lot more energy and you're expecting this to make you less tired, how?
Of course you're going to be more tired if you're excercising, particularly if you've never done it before. If you're not overfat and more specifically, not gaining fat then you need to increase your calorie intake to compensate for the extra calorie burn.

You also need plenty of rest and plenty of fluids - and you may want to consider going back to a personal trainer because no excercise to 3 hours of high intensity workouts per week is not the recommending way to get into excercise.

Our bodies are very adaptable to change but you have to give them a chance.
posted by missmagenta at 3:39 AM on February 10, 2008

I've previously read that your immune system is weakened for a few hours immediately after exercise, especially high intensity exercise, so you might want to slow it down a bit as people have suggested already, but also take extra care not to expose yourself to any potential viruses.

This study says that your NK cell (natural killer cells, a major component of the Innate immune system that fight off cells infected by viruses) numbers decrease immediately after exercise.

According to the Guardian, "high-intensity exercise such as running can suppress your immune system. Research on marathon runners suggests the higher your mileage and more quickly you increase it, the more likely you are to get sick. Walkers get ill less often than both sedentary people and runners. In one study, they experienced half as many colds as non-walkers, and showed an increase in the number of cells that attack viruses."

Also, this article also suggests that high intensity exercise makes you more susceptible to illness than more moderate workouts and suggests that taking the amino acid glutamine helps boost the immune system (but I'm no science expert so I'd suggest asking a doctor about that).
posted by Kirjava at 4:42 AM on February 11, 2008

These are all fantastic answers, thank you so much everyone for taking the time to post! My tired ol' body and I really appreciate it :)

Reading your comments it's obvious that I've failed to see what's been right in front of my nose - I'm doing too much too soon. As a result I'm going to reduce my workouts to 2 per week, and keep these to a 45 minute maximum session of moderate intensity. After 6 week's I'll start ramping it up a bit but s.l.o.w.l.y.

I'm very interested in the idea of "building a base" for fitness, with the 8 weeks of training at 75% of your heartrate etc, konolia or anyone else do you have any more info on this I could look up?
posted by katala at 4:41 AM on February 20, 2008

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