It’s that time of year again. The holidays are over, you’re getting caught up, maybe trying to stick to new year’s resolutions, and then it happens—you get sick. Chances are, there’s already something going around the office, or your kids have brought some sort of virus home from school. Just when you were about to get serious about getting in shape, too! Well, guess now you just have to wait it out, and put off exercising a while longer. Nice try. Get those running shoes on and fire up that treadmill because you may still be able to exercise while you’re sick.
Around this time of year, the most common thing going around is a cold. Just about everywhere you go, everyone’s sniffling and sneezing. Flu season is technically over, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a straggler or two. Also, those minor illnesses can sometimes lead to more serious issues. Scaling back your exercise regimen may be difficult, especially if you’re in the middle of a program, like training for a marathon. But pushing yourself can make things worse, and possibly cause you to miss the marathon altogether. So let’s take a look at when it’s ok to continue your exercise regimen and when you should take it easy.
When to exercise
The general rule of thumb is, if your illness is confined to the area above your neck—sore throat, runny nose, congestion—you should be able to exercise with little discomfort or adverse effects. In fact, a little activity can even help alleviate some of your congestion. But everyone is different, and while this may work for some people, it may not be for you. Just listen to your body, and be aware of how you feel, and how exercising makes you feel. Is walking giving you a headache? Is using an elliptical making you feel achy and worse than you felt when you started? Then slow down, or go ahead and stop, and try again the next day, or when you feel better.
When not to exercise
Converse to the rule above the neck rule, if your illness if affecting the area below your neck—chills, body aches, chest congestion, gastrointestinal problems—then you should forgo exercise until you feel better. These types of issues take a little more out of you, and require more energy for your body to heal. Expending some of that energy by exercising will only prolong the illness, and perhaps even make it worse. Some gentle stretches while you’re in bed can help keep you limber, and may even help with any aches you’re experiencing. But your best bet is to wait until you feel better before you get back to working out.
When to not even think about exercising
If you’re running a fever, forget it. No exercise for you. That’s a sign that your body is working hard at getting rid of whatever virus or illness is attacking it, and you need to just leave it alone and let it do its thing. Trying to exercise is only going to tax your body even further, weakening it, and possibly worsening the illness, or at least the symptoms. In addition, exercise will further raise your body temperature, and that can be dangerous when a fever is already present. You already feel miserable enough. Don’t make it worse.
If that congestion has turned into a sinus infection, or that cold has suddenly become bronchitis or pneumonia, same rule applies. In fact, if that’s the case, you need to see your doctor if you haven’t already, and don’t begin working out again until the doc says it’s okay.
Being sick is no fun. But pushing yourself into an even longer or more serious illness is even less fun. Give yourself time to recover, and you’ll be back on track in no time.