Even though a healthier immune system is one of the great benefits of a regular exercise program, there may be times when you find yourself down and out with a cold or flu. Whether or not you should work out when you’re sick is often a judgment call. Here are some things to consider before deciding whether you should lay low or break a sweat.
Assess Your Symptoms
Not all symptoms are created equal. Most doctors recommend evaluating your symptoms to see if they are above the neck (meaning sniffling, sneezing, sore throat, etc.). If that’s what you’re experiencing, you can probably do some light physical activity if you are feeling up for it. However, if your symptoms are below the neck (coughing, aches, stomach pains, etc.), skip the workout. If you have a fever, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, now is the time to rest because you are already at a higher risk of dehydration, and a sweat-filled session isn’t the best thing you can do for your body while trying to recover.
Monitor the Intensity
Even if you meet the above-the-neck guidelines, you probably aren’t going to be able to crush your workout with the same amount of intensity, and that’s a good thing. Since physical symptoms mean your body is still recovering, dial down your usual routine in favor of something lower intensity — such as gentle yoga, an easy-paced walk or, if you are very fit, a modified version of your typical workout. While it’s always important to listen to your body during exercise, it’s more important than ever while you are sick or recovering from an illness. Be sure to stay hydrated, monitor your exertion level and keep checking in to see if what you are doing is making you feel better or worse than when you started exercising.
Avoid the Gym
Out of consideration for fellow gym rats, it’s still a good idea to skip the gym even if you’re stir-crazy at home and feel well enough to do some activity. An at-home routine can not only help prevent you from spreading germs, it also allows you to more easily address messy symptoms (like a runny nose) and to quickly stop your session if you aren’t feeling as well as you thought. If you are dying to get out of the house, consider taking a walk around your neighborhood to get some fresh air without exposing others, but stay close enough to home that you can make a swift return to bed if needed.
Ask an Expert
If you aren’t sure what you should do when it comes to exercise and your illness, you can always check with your doctor. He or she can also help you figure out when you can return to your regular fitness routine.