Doctors Give Advice on Working Out While Sick

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When your nose begins to run, your throat hurts and coughing starts, you immediately move into “get healthy” mode. Maybe you drink tea or orange juice, keep tissues nearby, get extra sleep and perhaps pop a couple of pills. But feeling sick doesn’t necessarily mean you should forego all physical activity.

Below medical doctors provide tips on working out when you don’t feel your best and offer precautionary measures you can take to stave off illness.

WHEN WORKING OUT CAN HELP

You can still work out when you have a cold. In fact, movement can actually benefit your body. If your symptoms are above-the-neck (e.g., runny nose, headache, sneezing, etc.) it’s OK to train as long as you stay hydrated and listen to your body. According to Dr. Cedrina L. Calder, “Exercise can help open up your airways and help with congestion.” She notes that you need to decrease the intensity of your workouts until you feel better, as strenuous exercise can worsen your symptoms.

“It’s generally fine for a person to work out if it’s a viral upper respiratory infection,” says Dr. John Cheng of South Coast Medical Group. Remember to listen to your body: You should always stop if your symptoms worsen in any way.

DO NOT WORK OUT IF …

YOU’RE RUNNING A FEVER
Dr. Cheng says when a person has a fever that cannot reduce to normal temperatures, you are at risk of dehydration and overheating.

YOU CAN’T KEEP LIQUIDS DOWN
If you’ haven’t kept liquids or food down for the past 24 hours, “that’s a pretty good sign athletic performance should wait,” says Dr. Kevin Tolliver of Indiana University School of Medicine.

YOU HAVE SEVERE SYMPTOMS
Although athletes like to work out through the pain, according to Dr. Calder, you should stop exercising and wait to get better if you experience any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain

TIPS FOR EXERCISING WHEN SICK

1

SPICE UP YOUR WORKOUT

Dr. Chirag Shah, co-founder of Accesa Labs, says to take a day when you have a cold to focus on neglected aspects of your workout, such as stretching and foam rolling, which can build a foundation for long-term gains when you get back to feeling well.

2

EXERCISE IN THE MORNING

Dr. Arun R. Kaushik says starting your day with a morning workout can help make your body strong and agile as you battle sickness.

3

DECREASE THE INTENSITY

You clearly will not set any PRs during this time, so relax. Dr. Calder says you need to decrease the intensity of your workouts until you feel better, as strenuous exercise can exacerbate symptoms.

4

STAY AWAY FROM PEOPLE

If weather permits, Dr. Calder advises exercising outdoors instead of the gym. The fresh air can also help with your congested airways. If you feel even a little sick, you should extend exercise courtesy and avoid working out in areas with lots of people. Definitely follow normal gym etiquette and wipe down machines and mats after use. When at the gym, “even if you are using gloves, remember to always wash your hands,” says Dr. Michele C. Reed.

5

STAY HYDRATED

During cold weather, people tend to not drink as much. This can lead to “dizziness, fatigue or dehydration,” says Dr. Reed. Proper hydration helps performance and has been known to aid the immune system.

6

LAYER YOUR GEAR

Dr. Reed says to dress in layers that you can peel off at the gym as you warm up. Also, if you’re taking your workout outdoors, “don’t forget to cover your head because we lose a lot of heat from that part of the body,” she says.

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