Exercise addicts typically don’t let sickness slow them down, still hitting the gym with Kleenex and a steely resolve. That unwavering dedication can be admirable, and these workouts can empower and clear one’s head, but sometimes exercising when you are sick can be detrimental. Recommendations regarding exercising when sick vary a bit, but some general guidelines exist. The bottom line is to carefully consider how you feel. How will this workout be valuable? Are you looking simply to loosen up and combat sluggishness? Can you limit yourself to an easy/light workout?
What about your workout? This isn’t the best time to take on HIIT or CrossFit, but instead do some gentle yoga, leisurely cycling or moderate walking or swimming. A workout can provide energy, improve mood and loosen congestion.
Be smart about exercise when you are sick. If you haven’t eaten or had much to drink for 24 hours or more, skip it, as your body most likely has limited fuel and could be dehydrated. If getting up to go to the kitchen or bathroom is fatiguing, don’t even try to exercise until you have more energy.
Conversely, a simple runny nose shouldn’t be an excuse to hit the couch all day either. Most of us don’t need more reasons to blow off a workout, so don’t exaggerate symptoms to convince yourself that you must lounge all weekend. Now might be the time to rally!
Here are some tips that address if you should exercise when you’re sick:
- Symptoms above the neck are a green light – Physicians generally approve of exercise when symptoms are limited to a runny nose, sore throat or sneezing. You may need to take some cold medicine or throat lozenges, and carry some tissue with you, but if you feel up to it, exercise is acceptable.
- Skip workouts with below-the-neck symptoms – Coughing, body aches, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue mean that you should let your body rest and fight your illness, versus stressing it even more with the demands of a workout.
- Fevers require rest – When your body temperature is already elevated with a fever, don’t make your condition worse by raising it even more with exercise. Your immune system already is on overdrive.
- Know the side effects of common medications – If you are taking medicine before working out, be aware of how it can affect you. Antihistamines, for instance, can cause drowsiness; while cold or sinus medication can cause dizziness, nervousness, dry mouth or leave you feeling foggy.
- Limit yourself – Don’t aim to break any records or lift heavy weights when you are sick. And you don’t have to do two classes in a row just because that’s what you always do. It’s smart to lower intensity and reduce duration of workouts when you are sick to ensure that you don’t push yourself to the point where your condition worsens and you can’t exercise at all.
- Eliminate extremes – When you’re sick, fresh air can feel good, but don’t exercise in freezing or hot, humid temperatures, which can make it harder to breathe or perspire and cool down.
- Hydrate profusely – Drink even more water before, during and after exercise sessions to keep your body properly hydrated and to help stimulate your recovery. Water is the best choice, but you can add energy drinks to replace sodium and potassium and to encourage you to drink often.
- Rest – Of course you need more rest when you are sick, especially if you are continuing to exercise. Try to go to bed a bit earlier or grab a nap when you can.