Can you work out when you are Sick?
Tis the season...I am not referring to the holiday season. Cold and flu season is underway! One of the questions most people wonder is should they work out when they are sick. I often tell people to listen to their bodies. If you are feeling unwell it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. I seldom get a response of “awww, really, I shouldn’t work out?” Most people welcome the ‘get out of work out card’! There are some people who are tempted not to break their fitness routine for fear of losing results of all their hard work. I remind them that working out may actually prolong their illness. I believe it is a myth that you can ‘sweat out germs’. However, a walk may be beneficial by increasing your endorphins and helping you feel better. An intense workout is not recommended.
A great way to help you determine whether you should or shouldn’t workout is to follow this rule. If your illness is above your neck, it is okay, but if it is below the neck it isn’t. So if you simply have a case of the sniffles it is probably okay to continue with your program. If you have a fever I recommend you don’t work out. Having a fever puts too much stress on the heart, which is already beating faster because of your higher than normal body temperature. The same holds true if you're suffering from chest congestion, coughing, shortness of breath, nausea or stomach discomfort.
If you just have a cold and decide to go to the gym, keep in mind that you can easily spread your illness to others at the gym, so be considerate and wipe down the equipment and weights you use. If you feel up to doing some exercise, you have the option to stay at home instead of going to the gym. Also, back off the intensity of your regular work out. It is usually safe to do light aerobic exercise. Think fitness maintenance, it is not the time to work on increasing your level of fitness. With weight training keep the intensity low and go for light resistance. It may also be better to stay indoors, where the air is warmer and more humid. The cold and dry air outside can trigger the airway and cause excessive coughing.
If you are getting back to your work out after a flu bug, don’t start until all symptoms are gone. Don't start back at the level you were working out before getting sick. No matter how in shape you are, always start back slowly. Muscle has memory and you will be back at your fitness level you were in prior to your illness in no time.
From my personal experience, a head cold doesn’t keep me from working out, but any kind of cough or chest cold has me taking time off. Most times a low-to-moderate intensity workout can really loosen up a head cold, where as this same workout done with a chest cold can really set you back and make you feel worse. As a trainer I have been in the situation when a client comes to a session feeling unwell. I follow the ‘are you sick above or below the neck rule’ and sometimes wind up sending them home.
A little common sense and self-awareness goes a long way. When in doubt, take the day off. So, next time you are feeling under the weather, ask yourself if you really need to push it this time. When your body is fighting an infection, your performance and fitness benefits will likely be less than optimal. Missing a few exercise sessions is not going to affect your overall fitness. Sometimes it’s best to give your body a few days to heal and then you can come back stronger than ever!
Marla Arndt is a Guelph based Personal Trainer. She can be reached via her website at http://frameworksfitness.com