Should You Exercise While Sick?

We’ve all heard people say that “Exercise is the best remedy for a cold or illness”. In many cases, that may very well be true. Exercise can boost your immunity and strengthen your body’s natural resistance to illness. However, there are many cases where exercise will be TERRIBLE for your already bad health. So should you exercise while sick? Here’s what you need to know:

The “Above the Neck” Rule

One of the simplest rules of thumb is to evaluate where you’re sick. If you’re only sick above the neck—meaning a head cold, a runny nose, sneezing, an earache, pink eye, or some other sickness located above the level of your neck—then it shouldn’t be a problem to exercise. You may struggle to get through the workout, but it shouldn’t make the sickness worse. However, if the symptoms are located below neck level—such as indigestion in your stomach or a cough in your lungs—it may be better to opt for rest instead of exercise.

Exercising with a Cold

Colds are fairly common, and there’s not much we can do but wait them out and let our bodies deal with them. Sometimes exercise can help to increase our immunity to disease, and colds can be eliminated with the help of a good workout. Mild colds don’t have to stop you from hitting the weights or running trail. However, if the cold is more serious, it may be a good idea to give your body a break. If you’re feeling tired, lacking energy, struggling to breathe, or you’ve got a headache from a head cold, a workout may not be your best choice.

Other Minor Problems

A stuffy nose can make breathing really difficult while you’re running, but you could try to fit in a lower-intensity resistance training (weightlifting) workout that doesn’t involve a lot of heavy breathing. For an earache, you may feel pain while you run, but you can get by with a lighter exercise session. Be warned: ear infections can throw off your balance, and they may lead to fevers and other dangerous symptoms. Don’t push your body too hard, but listen when it tells you to rest. A day spent in bed could help you heal faster, while a day in the gym could lead to the sickness getting worse.

When Not to Work Out

If you have even a light fever, give your body a break and skip the gym. The same goes for any kind of cough that is persistent, frequent, or produces phlegm of any sort. The last thing you want is to worsen your lung infection because you inhaled more allergens, dust, and bacteria. If you have diarrhea, cramps, or some other stomach problem, your risk of weakness and dehydration is much higher. Symptoms of the flu—like a cough and runny nose combined with a fever, sore throat, and body aches—should be a very clear sign that you should NOT be doing a workout.

How Long Should I Rest?

It all comes down to what your body is telling you. If you feel like you’re ready to get back to the gym, go ahead. If you’re feeling fatigued, run down, or achy, you should heed your body’s warning and stay away. The last thing you want is to push yourself too hard and end up truly, seriously sick with an infection that won’t go away, or injure yourself because you collapsed during your workout. Listen to your body’s warnings and heed the signs. Only head back to your exercise when you feel ready to.

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