This time of year, it is quite common to get sick. In fact, the average person has about three respiratory infections each year. One question I often get asked is, “should I workout when I am sick”? There is not a clear yes or no answer here, but I have pulled together some information that may help you decided if you should lace up your shoes and aim for a light workout or if you should stay at home and rests.
When you exercise, it places stress on your body and breaks down tissues which the body then has to repair. This is a good thing, because usually your body becomes stronger for it resulting in an increase in muscle definition, speed, metabolism, etc. However, when you are sick your body is trying to use all its energy and resources to fight off the infection, and so working out (depending on what type of sickness you have) can sometimes cause a slow recovery.
Many studies have shown that people who regularly exercise are much less likely to get sick (read study here). Those who engage in near-daily activity of 30 minutes or more have fewer days of sickness with the common cold or other respiratory illnesses. Other studies (read here) have shown that moderate exercise when you have the cold do not alter the severity or the duration of the illness.
The best rule of thumb I can give you is to do the “neck check”. If your symptoms are above the neck, you are probably ok to workout. Things like: nose congestion, runny nose, scratchy or sore throat, or sneezing should not prevent you from getting some light exercise in that day. If your symptoms are below the neck, you may want to consider taking a rest day. Things like: chills, cough, fever, diarrhea, or vomiting should keep you resting for the day. If you have a cold and feel up to working out, have been fever free for 24 hours, and your symptoms are just mild then you should have the green light to workout. Here is a little cheat sheet I put together for you:
If you are working out in a public area (like a gym) you may want to consider working out from home as a common courtesy to prevent your germs from spreading to others. Often times when I am sick I will just go for a family walk in the evening instead of my normal trip to the gym. If you decide to go to the gym anyways, here are some common courtesy tips you should follow to prevent spreading your sickness to other people:
Use a tissue! When you need to cough, cough into a tissue instead of your bare hands to prevent germs from spreading with each piece of equipment you tough.
- Wipe off any equipment you use. Most gyms have sanitizing wipes or sprays all throughout the gym. Make sure you use them!
- Make sure to throw all your used tissues directly in the trash can. Don’t wait until the end of your sets to walk over to the trash.
- Wash your hands really well with soap and water or hand sanitizer both before and after your workout.
^^^^^These are actually even good tips to follow if you aren’t sick, but see others at the gym who are sick, to help prevent yourself from catching what they have.
The bottom line is: listen to your body. If you feel too sick to workout than your body probably needs to rest. If you only have mild symptoms ‘above the neck’ then consider working out but keeping your workouts short and moderate, nothing too intense. The faster you recover, the faster you can get back in the gym at full speed.
I love hearing from you guys, as always, if you have any questions leave them in the comments below!
**Disclaimer** I have provided the proper links and studies in the article above, but I am not a medical professional and am not trying to play one on the internet. If you have specific questions, please reach out to your family doctor.