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Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

Tis the season for a lot of fun things—like holiday parties and skiing—and some not so fun things—like colds and flu. No matter how hard you work to take care of yourself, sometimes illness is inevitable.

So, what do you do when you’re sick? Do you strop, drop, and wallow in misery or do you push on through and keep exercising? That depends.

Exercise could help or hurt, depending on your symptoms. Learn to discern.

Perform the Neck Check
The “neck check” is a general rule of thumb regarding exercise and illness: If your symptoms are above the neck, it might be safe to exercise; however, if your symptoms are below the neck, it’s best to rest.

  • Above the neck: Symptoms that are above the neck include runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, and sneezing.
  • Below the neck: Symptoms that are below the neck may include chest congestion, hacking cough, body aches, chills, diarrhea, or an upset stomach.

Assess the Fever Factor
Regardless of what you uncovered during your neck check, a fever trumps all. If you have a fever, refrain from exercising until your temperature returns to normal. A fever is a sign that your body is fighting an infection. You want to provide your body the rest it needs to do this important work.

Do not exercise if you are experiencing fever, fatigue, or overall body aches.

How to Exercise During Illness
So you passed the neck check and you don’t have a fever, now what? Use your judgment and listen to your body. Here are some guidelines:

  • Reduce intensity. Studies have shown that exercising at a low-moderate intensity level will not compromise the immune system or increase the symptoms of a cold. However, high-intensity exercise can have a negative impact on the immune system. What does that mean for you? Opt for an easy walk or jog over weightlifting or high-intensity aerobic exercise.
  • Reduce duration. Your body is using its reserves to fight illness. If you must exercise, make it brief. This is not a time to build fitness; it’s a time to move your body gently to relieve congestion and maintain the fitness foundation you’ve already built.
  • Rest. Allow more rest time than you normally would. Exercise plus illness is a double whammy for your body. Allow it time to recover by getting extra sleep.
  • Water. Hydration is always important, but it’s even more critical when you’re ill. Drink more water than you normally would.
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