Exercising when sick: sweat it out, or rest it out?

You have been committed to your exercise routine, hardly missing a day. All of a sudden you’re ambushed by a cold or flu. The question is: Should you skip the workout session and exchange it for a nap?

Mild to moderate physical activity is generally OK if you have a common cold and no fever. Being active might even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and in the short-term relieve nasal congestion. If you've got a fever, hitting the gym is a definite no-no.

Here is a general guide for exercise and illness to consider:

  • As a rule of thumb for exercising when sick, is the “above the neck rule”. If your symptoms are above the neck like a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat, it is OK to exercise.
  • Consider reducing the intensity and length of your workout. Instead of going for a run, take a walk.
  • If your symptoms are below the neck like coughing, body aches, fever and fatigue, you should rather hang up the workout shoes until your symptoms subside.
  • Fever is the limiting factor. The danger when exercising with a fever is that you raise your body temperature internally while you already have a fever, and this can make you even sicker.

Listen to your body and know your limits. If you feel miserable, take a break. Ease into your normal workout routine as you feel better. Always check with your doctor if you aren’t sure if it is ok to exercise.

How long will you be side-lined?

  • A common cold should normally be cleared up in about 7 days.
  • If flu turns into something more complicated like bronchitis or sinusitis, it could last two weeks or even longer if it is not treated properly.

Gym etiquette when exercising with a cold

It's one thing if you decide to exercise when sick, but how do you keep from spreading it to others in the gym? And what if you are the one surrounded by sick people in the gym?

  • Use a towel and place it on every surface you touch and wipe it off when you are done.
  • Wash your hands before and after using the restroom.
  • Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your gym bag for in case you come in contact with someone who is sneezing and coughing.

Sources:
mayoclinic.org
webmd.com

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