It’s back to school time, which usually means one thing in my house: the sickness is back! From runny noses to strep throat to seasonal flu, the ickies are back in full force.
Should you skip the gym when you’re feeling under the weather? Or should you train when you’re sick?
What Illness Does to Our Bodies
Working out boosts our immune systems when we’re healthy, helping us fend off illness. Of course, bacteria and viruses are bound to make their way through our immune defenses, even in the healthiest bodies.
We work out to keep from getting sick. But when we DO get sick, what happens to our bodies?
When illness strikes, our bodies go to work fighting the illness. Your immune system kicks into high gear when you’re sick. That’s its job. Energy is diverted to identifying and overwhelming the bacteria or virus, which ultimately leaves us feeling fatigued. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.
Exercising – especially intense exercise – puts added stress on your immune system, which consequently makes it harder to recover from your illness.
Dehydration is another concern. If you have a fever, you’re sweating, or you have intestinal distress, you are losing water faster than normal. Even mild to moderate exercise can worsen dehydration, which can become dangerous.
Illness ultimately makes us feel sluggish and tired, which isn’t exactly a recipe for athletic success.
Should You Train When You’re Sick?
In general, doctors say to follow the “above the neck” rule. If your symptoms are all above the neck – stuffy or runny nose, congestion, a mild sore throat or cough – you’re probably okay to do mild to moderate exercise. In fact, exercising can sometimes relieve stuffiness by opening up your airways and clearing congestion.
But if those symptoms are “below the neck” – chest congestion, phlegmy cough, stomachache, vomiting or diarrhea, fever, or widespread body aches, it’s best to rest. Even moderate exercise can make these symptoms worse, which will only keep you out of the gym longer.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is listen to your body. If you feel like you need a day to rest, then rest. If you feel well enough to get outside and take a walk, do that. The goal is to move as much as possible without undermining your recovery.
If you feel lightheaded, fatigued, or breathless when you exercise, that’s an indicator that you should skip the day’s workout.
Taking it Slow
If you do decide to exercise while sick, take it slow. Pushing yourself too hard can actually make your illness worse, which will ultimately lead to a longer recovery time.
There are plenty of options to get your body moving if you’re dealing with a mild illness. Consider lower-impact options instead:
- Go for a walk instead of running
- Do some light weights with higher reps instead of heavy lifting
- Find an online yoga or Pilates session
- Go for a slow bike ride
- Do bodyweight exercises, like those included in our Bubbled 4-week at-home booty-building program
Any movement is better than no movement – unless you’re seriously ill. In that case, “no movement” might be just what the doctor ordered.
Skip Group Workouts
If you feel well enough to work out, but still have symptoms like a mild fever, cough, sneezing, or sore throat, it’s best to stay away from your workout buddies. Exercise at home or outdoors to make sure you don’t spread those germs.
Side note: exercising outdoors is a great idea, anyway. Vitamin D (which is derived from sunlight) can strengthen your immune system, which could keep you healthy the next time your kids bring illness home with them!
Only return to the gym once you’re feeling better. If you have any questions about your recovery, be sure to ask your doctor before returning to exercise.If you need some at-home workout ideas, we’ve got you covered!