Should you exercise while sick?

by NCN Health And Science Team Posted on January 24th, 2019

You just worked out all of the kinks in your workout routine and now…you’re sick. What do you do? Do you sweat through it or forsake the gym for a much-needed nap? Follow these tips for working out when you’re sick.

Listen to your body

If your symptoms are mild such as sniffles, sneezing or light coughing, you’re probably okay to continue your normal routine. Listen to your body, and use your best judgment based on the severity of your symptoms.

If you begin to experience more severe symptoms such as fever, nausea, headaches or diarrhea, the gym is a definite no-no. Exercising can often make matters worse and cause complications. Consult your healthcare provider about your symptoms, and allow time for your symptoms to improve.

Still debating whether or not you should exercise? Follow this simple rule of thumb: Only do as much as you’re up for. You may feel well enough for a yoga session, but the treadmill makes you queasy. Or perhaps you aren’t feeling up for the gym at all, and that’s okay. Your body will thank you for squeezing in a couple of extra rest days.

Change up your workout

If your illness is manageable and you still plan to exercise, consider switching up your workout. Low-intensity activities such as walking, swimming, biking and yoga are great ways to exercise without throwing your system into overdrive. High-intensity training such as powerlifting, sprints, team sports and exercising in extreme temperatures can push your body to the limits, and may cause more harm in the long run. For this reason, try to keep your workouts short, ideally no more than 30 to 45 minutes, and focus on lower-impact options.

Be patient

If you’re experiencing a cold or the flu, chances are your symptoms will be sticking around for a while. Complete recovery can take up to 10 days, sometimes longer. For the best recovery and minimal disruption to your routine, we recommend avoiding exercise when your symptoms are at their worst. Once your symptoms begin to improve you can slowly work up to your normal routine. Start slow, keep your workouts short and give yourself ample time to get back into the swing of things.

Working out when under the weather

Every now and then you might not feel well enough to exercise and decide to skip a workout. But if you have a cold that could last a full week, you probably won’t want to find yourself facing a fitness setback once you’ve recovered.

Here’s how to stay in the game.

The general guideline is that you should be able to work out if your symptoms are from the neck up, like a stuffy nose from a cold, but not when you have the whole-body achiness of the flu. Easy or moderate exercise, such as walking rather than running, should be fine. Some experts say it could even be beneficial.

But you don’t want to spread germs at the gym, so work out at home to avoid infecting others. And remember to cut back on the intensity and length of your usual workout as needed to avoid further taxing your body and risking injury.

If you’re sick enough that you need to significantly scale back your usual workout, a call to your doctor’s office is warranted—beyond whether it’s safe to exercise with your particular illness, ask whether you need an office visit. Even if you get the go-ahead to exercise, tread lightly so you can see how your body responds. Stop if necessary—pay attention to any clues that you just can’t handle the physical exertion you’re attempting.

If you have the full gamut of flu symptoms, like fever, fatigue and body aches, even moderate exercise is out. You might need to wait 2 to 4 weeks after recovery before you get back to high-level workouts. Return at a slow pace and gradually build up to avoid stressing your system.

What about exercise when you have a chronic condition?

Health experts say exercise may help you better manage it, especially if the illness is characterized by inflammation, such as an inflammatory bowel or rheumatic disease, because exercise engenders an anti-inflammatory response in the body. But you may need to sit out a severe flare, such as a rheumatoid arthritis attack.

And always follow your doctor’s advice if you need to take any medications that make it unsafe to exercise.

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