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Exercising While Sick: Is it a Good Idea or Not?

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Building a workout schedule can be tough. Keeping with it can be even tougher. When pesky colds and flus come around and throw a wrench in all your hard work, it can feel like a huge setback and major disappointment. You don’t necessarily have to call it quits when you come down with a sniffle or a cough. It may be enough to take it easy.

Here’s how to know what to do, what not to do, and when opting for a nap is the best way to go.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

If you can avoid getting sick, that’s the best way to go. It’s impossible to avoid catching a nasty bug from time to time, but moderate, regular exercise can increase your body’s immunity and help fight off illnesses. Engaging in 30-minute exercises three to four times a week builds higher levels of T cells, which help fight infection.

Conversely, studies have shown that longer, more intense workouts (think 90 minutes) can actually lead to a decline in immune health. Moderate, medium-length exercise is your best bet for getting through flu season without a big fight.

Do a Neck Check

Here’s a simple way to determine if you’re fit for fitness or should place your workouts on hold. If you’re experiencing symptoms above the neck, such as watery eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing, or a sore throat, you’re okay to continue your workouts. However, if you feel body aches, coughing, chest congestion, fatigue, or fever, it’s time to take it easy and rest until you’re feeling better.

Fever? Take a Break

When you run a fever, your body’s temperature has already increased. When you exercise, you’re increasing your body’s temp even more, which can cause you to feel even worse and get much sicker. If you’re running a fever, that’s the sign it’s time to stop exercising and switch from running and lifting to napping and resting.

Know your Body

As long as you don’t have a fever or any symptoms below the neck, feel free to continue with your workout routines as usual—if you can. Some people’s bodies can handle more than others, so it’s important to listen to yours and know your limits. If you feel weak, tired, or are having trouble catching your breath, ease up on what you’re doing, or take a couple days to rest and rebuild your strength.

If you’re not sure if you’re up for exercise, but you want to try to maintain your schedule, talk to your doctor about what’s best.

Never Mind “Go Hard or Go Home”

When recovering from an illness, your body is going through a lot and trying to rebuild its strength. Don’t try to run 10 miles after having the flu or do deadlifts after you’ve been lifting tissue boxes for a week. Ease back into your workouts. It may be frustrating, but in the long term it’s the best way to regain your momentum, strength, and endurance.

Start back with shorter, lower-intensity workouts. You may feel like you’re regressing, but in no time you’ll be back to feeling like a powerhouse.

This cold and flu season, make sure you monitor your body and listen to how you’re feeling before forcing yourself to the gym. If you have a fever, call it quits for a while. And always remember you can talk to a doctor if you have any questions about how you’re feeling.

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