Shingles -- a viral disease -- is usually indicated by a weeping, blistering rash. As long as you have the rash, you are contagious, and could infect those who have not had chickenpox; however, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles. You should abstain from swimming in public pools, playing contact sports and visiting gyms during this time. Once the rash has cleared and your doctor says it is safe, you can return to your previous activities. Let common sense -- as well as your own comfort level -- be your guide.
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Shingles, which usually strikes people over 50, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. It lies dormant in nerve tissue, and may re-emerge after many years as shingles, usually appearing as a band of blisters on your back and one side of your chest. Other symptoms include stabbing pains, burning and itching sensations, fever, headache and fatigue. There is no cure, but antiviral drugs such as acyclovir can shorten the course if taken within 72 hours of the disease's onset. Consult your doctor right away if you have symptoms of shingles. A shingles complication known as postherpetic neuralgia can cause you to feel pain long after the rash and blisters have disappeared; PHN is treated with analgesics and antidepressants. Your doctor may also recommend a numbing agent, such as lidocaine.
Exercising while you have the shingles rash can help relieve the stress, pain and depression that may accompany shingles. If you have a customary activity that you use as a stress-reliever, it may make good sense to continue it if your doctor says it is safe, but you must avoid activities that would put others at risk. On the other hand, shingles can cause extreme achiness and fatigue; bed rest -- especially at the beginning of the rash -- may be the best policy. Once the blisters have dried and completely scabbed over, there is no risk of infecting others; you can return to your former activity levels if desired.
Gentle exercise, such as tai chi and yoga, can be beneficial for people with shingles; there is even evidence that tai chi -- a traditional form of Chinese exercise that mixes martial arts with meditation -- has a protective effect against the virus. The National Institutes of Health reports that in a 2007 clinical trial published in the "Journal of the American Geriatrics Society," 112 adults aged 59 to 86 who took 16 weeks of tai chi were found to have a level of immune response similar to that granted by the varicella vaccine. Stephen A. Nezezon, M.D., staff physician at the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, endorses a daily regime of yoga poses and meditation to lessen shingles symptoms. Nezezon suggests performing at least one relaxation pose in your daily routine. Walking at a relaxed pace, and swimming in cool water -- as long as infecting others is not an issue -- are other activities that may soothe the pain of shingles.
Make sure your blisters have dried out and completely scabbed over before exercising in public places. If you suffer from postherpetic neuralgia, the "Salisbury Post" cautions that you should avoid friction in painful areas. A dab of petroleum jelly on sensitive spots may have a soothing and protective effect. Avoid exercising in very hot or cold weather, performing strenuous exercise that promotes profuse sweating and wearing tight or restrictive clothing.