Should I Exercise When Ill?

by Dr. Christopher Weaver | August 9th, 2013 | Fitness Expert

tissuesSo you’ve been working hard since spring to get in shape and you’re seeing nice results, or maybe you’ve just gotten through the first month of an exercise program, and you feel like you have finally established the discipline to stick with it when all of a sudden you come down with an illness that leaves you feeling fatigued and drained.  You don’t want to lose the fitness you have worked so hard for, or perhaps you’re worried that missing several workouts could jeopardize your motivation to stick with your program. Thus the question is raised:  should you continue working out while you’re sick, or should you take the next week off and rest up?  While there is no clear cut answer to this question, there are some simple guidelines to consider that might just help you to decide.

First and foremost, take into consideration the type of illness that you are experiencing.  If you’re suffering from a head cold or mild sore throat, chances are that doing a lower intensity type workout might even help you feel better.  Yet, if your symptoms are more severe, such as nausea, vomiting, painful coughing, or others that you would consider moderate or higher in terms of severity, take the time to rest up and allow your body the time needed to recover from the illness.  Never even consider working out if you have a fever.  Even low to moderate exercise raises the body’s core temperature, and if you’re experiencing a fever, your body temperature is already elevated; therefore, you are substantially increasing the risk of more serious health conditions if you exercise with a fever.  A simple guideline to remember is if your sickness is from the neck up, you’re good to work out, yet if you’re experiencing an illness from the neck down, sit the next few exercise sessions out.

So let’s say that you have made the decision to workout.  It is important to modify your workout plan during the duration of your illness in order to lessen the intensity of your routine.  This will allow your body and immune system the opportunity to fight off the illness instead of taking valuable energy and resources to recover from a strenuous workout.  With my personal training clients, I recommend that they break from their heavy weightlifting and resistance routines until their symptoms begin to considerably lighten up.  Instead, I have them focus on low to moderate intensity cardiovascular type workouts, such as walking or cycling.  I have also found that gentle yoga is a great way to increase blood and energy flow, as well as helping to relieve some of the soreness and stiffness that can accompany the common cold.  It is important to always listen to your body!  If you at any point feel lightheaded, dizzy, or short of breath, back off and allow yourself adequate recovery time before you resume with working out.

Another important area to consider is the possibility of spreading the illness that you’re suffering from to others.  I always suggest that the people I am working with consider doing their workouts at home or outside until their illness subsides.  If you must go to the gym, use some simple precautions to greatly reduce the risk of spreading the illness, such as washing your hands prior to your workout, after any trip to the restroom, and immediately following the workout.  It is also a good idea to take along a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use frequently during the workout.  If your gym has towels and antibacterial spray or wipes, use these after you finish up with any gym equipment that you use.  If your gym does not have these, take a large bath towel with you and place it on the equipment you’re using to sit on.  You should also try coughing or sneezing into your shoulder instead of your hands, and avoid wiping your nose as much as possible during your workout.  Just be aware of the possibility of spreading the germs associated with your illness, and use courtesy and common sense any time that you are out in public.

Be your own judge when it comes to deciding whether to work out while you are sick using the guidelines I’ve shared.  I always recommend that you consult with your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional prior to exercising when ill, regardless of the severity.  Remember to drink lots of fluids before, during, and after your workouts, and be aware of any signs that your body is giving you that might be an indicator to back off.

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All health and fitness information is provided for educational purposes. Please consult with your physician before beginning any exercise regimen.