The news has been reporting an increase in the number of flu cases over the last few days and it seems the ‘season of sickness’ is in full swing! Hopefully you are taking proper precautions against becoming sick: washing your hands, taking vitamin C and keeping stress at a minimum. However, sometimes the best defense isn’t enough to keep you from getting sick. If you do become ill it is best to get some rest (click here for more information on how to fight the flu naturally) but if you are a regular exerciser or someone who is trying to start the habit it can be difficult to know when and if you should step away from your regimen. This begs the question: is it OK to exercise when you are ill? Well, after I came down with some sniffles and wondered that very thing I did a little research and have come up with a few good answers!
Before you drag your sick-self out of bed and onto the elliptical it is important to determine whether you will be helping or hurting yourself. It is best to do a quick survey of your symptoms: body ache, runny nose, cough, headache, etc. If you notice that all of your symptoms are “above-the-neck”, like they usually are with the common cold, then chances are you are OK to exercise. In fact, a good cardiovascular workout may help clear your sinuses, relieve sinus pressure and give you a burst of energy (just make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated)! It is important to note, however, that if you have a severe sore throat you would be better off skipping your workout until your symptoms subside.
I would also suggest modifying your exercise regimen to accommodate being sick. When you are ill it will be difficult (if not impossible) to reach peak performance levels you are used to and it is best not to push it. If you typically run six miles when you are at the gym, try jogging three instead. Or if you exercise for an hour, cut it down to 30 minutes. It is important to remember that you are sick and your body is working hard to fight against infection, if you overdo it in a workout you may risk prolonging your illness or making symptoms worse – and nobody wants that! Most importantly, remember to listen to your body. I cannot stress this enough! If you notice you are getting dizzy, feeling nauseous or are having a hard time catching your breath you should definitely stop.
Something else to consider is whether or not you are contagious. If you have an aggressively runny nose or constantly need to clear your throat you may want to consider exercising at home rather than going to the gym. You don’t want to put other people at risk if you are contagious and you might find yourself subjected to dirty looks from those around you if you come down with a sneezing fit on the treadmill. On the flip side, if you notice that all of your symptoms are ‘below-the-neck’, as typically seen with the flu, skip the gym. Chest congestion, a cough, muscle aches, nausea and a fever are all signs that you need to stay in bed. Attempting to exercise if you have these symptoms can not only make them worse but you could endanger yourself, especially if you have severe chest congestion or a fever. Putting stress on lungs that are filled with fluid will make it difficult for you to breathe and could lead to bronchial spasms and fainting. Also, exercise raises your body temperature which can be very dangerous if you already have a fever. If pushed too high, a fever could lead to coma or death so if you have a fever it is best to stay in bed, drink plenty of fluids and get some rest.
Regular exercise is a great way to stay healthy and can even help you fight off a cold. Just remember to take into account what kind of ‘sick’ you are before deciding whether or not to head to the gym. If need be, missing a few days of your workout for rest will benefit you in the long run and will allow you to get back to your normal routine sooner rather than later. If you do decide to exercise make sure to take it easy on yourself with a modified routine, eat enough calories and drink plenty of water! Be well!