Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

One of the benefits of exercise is that it boosts your immune system.  However, even the biggest fitness fanatics can get sick now and then thanks to a laundry list of reasons including:

  • Mental stress

  • Lack of sleep

  • Poor nutrition

For me, when I have a series of days filled with 5-am call times, outdoor shoots in cold or hot weather, tight deadlines, a too-full social calendar and not enough sleep, I can actually feel my body getting rundown.  Sure enough, I am heading into this weekend battling the classic symptoms of a common cold – a sore throat, serious head congestion and fatigue. So, I figured it was the perfect time to tackle the question of whether it’s good or bad to workout when you’re sick.

The American College of Sports Medicine has outlined what you could call the “above/below-the-neck rule.” If your symptoms are like mine, studies show mild-to-moderate exercise isn’t harmful.  This could include low/moderate intensity cardio, which is a cardiovascular workout that almost constantly keeps your heart rate in a range that is between 60-80% of your maximum heart rate.  (Reminder: to calculate max heart rate: 220-your age)  However, ACSM recommends you skip the heavy weight training or high-intensity cardio until you do beat your cold. Working out at too high an intensity when you’re fighting a bug puts extra stress on the body and can further compromise the immune system.

One note if you are able to exercise and you head to a gym: do your fellow gym members a favor and wipe down any equipment you use with the anti-bacterial spray that’s sure to be made available by the facility. It’s just common courtesy.

As for the below-the-neck rule: If you have stomach issues that include vomiting, diarrhea, a severe cough or a fever, ACSM says you should take a break from exercise until whatever’s ailing you has run its course. Also, if you’re knocked out by a serious bug for several days, remember to take it easy on your first day back in action. Your body could be recovering from mild dehydration and overall fatigue, so don’t jump out of bed and rush back to your highest-intensity cardio class as soon as your fever breaks.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listen to your body! This morning, I planned to get in a pre-work workout because of after-work plans, but when my alarm went off, I was simply too tired and too achey to get out of bed. Instead, I added a couple of extra blocks to my walk to work by going to a different place to get my morning coffee.  I truly believe getting that extra hour of sleep will help me beat this bug faster than if I had pushed myself too hard.

While a minimum of one day of rest each week is important, when you’re sick, you may need one (or two) more.  Don’t sweat it.  Just rest up, drink your fluids and before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

About LauraLovesFitness

After spending more than 10 years in the communications industry, this lifetime fitness lover and newly certified fitness professional wants to share my passion for health and well-being with others.

Posted on September 23, 2011, in Fitness, Health, Nutrition and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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