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We all know how fitness works; you work out, you push yourself, you get fitter and stronger, maybe even lose a little weight and tone up. Or that’s how it should be. For myself, every few months it all gets a little too much and I feel run down and end up with a cold and/or a really sore throat. It used to end with tonsillitis when I didn’t rest when my body was clearly asking for it. I’ve always just assumed I was a sickly person, that was until I heard about Post Exercise Immunosuppression (PEIS). It answered so many questions and explained so many things.
So, what is Post Exercise Immunosuppression?
Post Exercise Immunosuppression, also known as Exercise Induced Immunosuppression, occurs when there’s an increased level in the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol in the body. It’s triggered when we’re constantly pushing ourselves – typically at 85% or more. It won’t occur if you’re doing moderate workouts and the level of exercise is not too high.
It most commonly presents itself as symptoms of a cold or a sore throat. Whilst these are both normal, if the symptoms linger and you can’t shake them off as quickly as you normally would, this is your first clue you may be experiencing PEIS. Other signs include feeling run down, not getting a good night’s sleep, having an elevated heart rate and struggling with loss of appetite.
Just because you have a cough or a cold, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got PEIS though. It’s thought that the average person will get three colds a year – any more than this, or regular sore throats, then you may indeed have PEIS. Some may not realise anything is wrong, putting it down to simply being ill and sickly. But if you’re finding that over the course of a few months, or even years, you’re sick more than most, it may well be that you have PEIS.
How did I get Post Exercise Immunosuppression?
We push our bodies to the brink to get the results that we want. For the majority this is OK and will get them the results they desire. For many of us, it will trigger Post Exercise Immunosuppression. I know for me, my PEIS is triggered when I do bootcamps and regular classes at the gym. It’s not the workouts themselves, it’s the fact I give it all my all. To the point I struggle for breathe and can be found panting at the sidelines a few times throughout. If I push myself to this point once a week, I’m usually OK. However, a few times a week is more than my body can handle and I soon start to feel run down.
Athletes who are particularly susceptible to PEIS are those who take part in IRONMAN competitions and even marathons.
How do you treat Post Exercise Immunosuppression?
Post Exercise Immunosuppression is linked to over-training. It kicks in when your body needs a break. There are no magic beans or potions that will ensure you never get it again, but you can boost your immune system and work to keep it at bay.
The best thing you can do is sort your diet out. The immune system needs a varied diet that’s decent, clean and natural. Be sure to get your five-a-day and antioxidants. If you’re not sure what’s going wrong, keep an honest food diary – you’ll soon spot any issues.
Be sure to stay hydrated too. During the intense workout and especially following your workout when you’re most dehydrated and your immune system as it its weakest. It’s also recommended that those experiencing PEIS drink plenty of milk.
An equally important rule is to slow down If you feel that you’re coming down with something; take a rest day or two. Or, if you’re determined to continue working out, choose a less intensive exercise. Maybe do a weights session instead of a cardio session. Maybe go for a power walk instead of a run. There are many things you can do that don’t involve sitting in front of the TV.
How do you exercise with Post Exercise Immunosuppression?
Just because you experience Post Exercise Immunosuppresion, doesn’t mean you can never don your trainers and go to the gym or for a run ever again. Sorting your diet out and staying well hydrated will go a long way in protecting you from PEIS.
You can still push your body to the limits, working towards those goals you have in mind. Listen to your body though. If you feel like you might be getting PEIS symptoms, slow down or take a break. It’s better to be safe and rest up than to continue pushing yourself and make yourself ill.
Alternatively, you could switch your training to a slightly more moderate training, or mix up your workouts so you’re doing a mix of cardio and strength training, rather than all of one and none of the other.