Working out while sick…good or bad decision?
I have been back and forth on this question for most of my adult life.
Should I be working out while sick or taking a break?
The question came back to me this week when I had plans for my first spin session in over a week and woke up with a 102 degree fever.
If you exercise regularly to help give you energy, maintain your weight or simply keep you sane, you know how much you rely on your workouts to stay healthy. A sickness can effect your fitness momentum and really screw up your daily routine.
That does not necessarily mean that you should push through an illness just to get your workout in!
Here are my tips and tricks for working out while sick:
Does it sound good?
Ask yourself if it sounds good to walk, run, lift weights, whatever…If the answer is NO, then that is your answer. There are times you are perfectly healthy that working out might not sound good, but you motivate and end up glad you did it. When you are sick, listen to your body. If it doesn’t sound good, then just don’t do it.
Do a symptom check.
If you are experiencing a fever, coughing, body aches, vomiting or diarrhea, skip the workout.
When you have a fever, your internal body temperate is already high. Exercising raises that temperate even more and can make you more sick. Vomiting and diarrhea can dehydrate you and make you weak, which exercise can exacerbate (and who really wants to go to the gym while throwing up, anyway??).
Dr. Neil Schachter gives a good rule of thumb called the “neck check” (source). He says if your symptoms are above the neck, such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing and runny nose, it’s ok to exercise. If they are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever and fatigue, it’s time to rest.
Start with a walk.
Put on your gym shoes and take a walk around the block to “test the waters”. If it feels great, you’ll know you are most likely ready for more and are on the road to recovery. If it feels really hard, you’ll know you need a little more time to heal.
Just like our muscles have to recover from a hard workout, our heart and lungs have to recover from the cold and flu. Be nice to yourself and don’t jump back in too fast or hard.
Be flexible with your routine.
When you are ready to start exercising again, think about starting with yoga, Pilates or a long walk. You may want to jump right back in to your sprints and heavy lifting, but give your body a chance to ease into things. Your hard workouts will be much more effective when you have a body ready to take them on.
A few months ago I felt a little scratchy throat coming on. I taught a spin class that night, which turned my scratchy throat into a full blown cold. I rested 24 hours and it got a little better. I decided to go ahead and teach another spin class the very next day. I knew in my gut I shouldn’t, but I felt bad canceling and wanted a workout. I pushed myself and knew immediately it was a very bad idea.
I ended up sick for days with a fever, bad cough, runny nose and an inflamed lung. I made a bad situation worse and ended up missing a week of exercise instead of just a couple of days.
This is an example of what NOT to do when you are sick.
I know firsthand how frustrating it is to sick on the sidelines when all you want to do is move.
I know how hard it can be to regain momentum when taking a few days off.
It’s just not worth it to ignore your hacking cough and push through it, only to get pneumonia and be sidelined for six weeks (yes, I’ve done that, too).
If you are forced to take a rest due to an illness, keep a fitness mindset! Keep yourself excited for your first day back. Visualize what you will do and what you will wear. Maybe schedule a class for a week later so that you have something to keep yourself accountable.
Keep eating well and drinking plenty of liquids so that you recover more quickly and don’t lose those healthy eating habits.
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Take care of yourself and let your body heal. Then, when the time is right, get right back to it!