Should You Work Out When You’re Sick?

Happy Fitness Friday, Everyone!

I’ve been asking myself this question all week. Tuesday, I came down with a serious cold or flu – I can never tell the difference – and I’ve been slowly easing my way back to exercise over the course of the week. It can be tough to know whether it’s too soon to get back to your workouts or whether sitting around for another day is just making things worse, so I thought I’d share a few guidelines with you today.

1. Never Exercise When You Have a Fever – Fever is the body’s ways of telling you this thing you have is serious. Your body is raising its temperature in an effort to provide a less-hospitable environment for whatever infection it’s fighting. This is a big deal and it uses a lot of bodily resources, so the last thing you need to do is place even greater demands on your body’s systems by exercising. Stay in bed, drink fluids and get as much sleep as possible!

2. No Cardio With Chest Congestion – This may seem obvious, but I have to say it for you die-hards out there: When a cold or congestion moves into your lungs, don’t do anything that causes labored breathing. If a congestive cough is the only symptom you have, at the end of a cold, for example, then light activity is okay (see more below). Use your breathing as a guide – if you’re not having trouble taking in enough oxygen, then the level of activity is fine. But if you find yourself taking quick, shallow breaths or coughing more than usual, lighten up the intensity.

3. Return to Light Activity As Soon As Possible – The fever, body aches and chills have passed; you can swallow without feeling like your throat is going to explode; you can breathe reasonably well out of at least one nostril – you are ready to return to exercise! Slowly. Getting up and moving around increases blood flow throughout the body, which is helpful for carrying away toxins. Also, lying in bed for hours on end has probably given you a sore neck or back, and getting up and moving again can help realign your body and re-lubricate your joints. If you’ve been laid up for days, then you’ve already started losing some muscle mass, so light strength training (with resistance bands or your bodyweight, for example) is a good idea.
Just be sure that you take it slow and don’t overtax yourself. Your body is in a vulnerable state and you’re susceptible to relapse, so now is not the time to run that 5K or to max out your bench press. Start with light activity for a short period – 10 to 20 minutes is plenty. If you feel fine the next day, you can increase intensity and/or time a little bit.
After an illness, it’s more important than ever to stay well-hydrated, so be sure to drink 10 to 20 ounces of water about 30 minutes before your workout, and re-hydrate with six to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes. You might also consider taking longer rests between sets during your strength workout, or adding longer and slower recovery intervals   to your cardio session.

Now I’m going to follow my own advice and head to the gym for a short, light workout.

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