Q: Should I exercise when I’m sick?
-T. Monroe, Mission Viejo
A: This is a common question I get regularly. The rule of thumb for exercising while sick is the above/below-the-neck rule. If your symptoms are above the neck (sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat) the answer is yes, you can continue with a low to moderate-intensity workout. Moderate workouts may help you feel better because exercise can temporarily relieve nasal congestion.
Studies have shown that exercising at moderate-intensities does not intensify cold symptoms or compromise the immune system. While intense exercise temporarily depresses your immune system, low to moderate exercise boosts it!
Try to avoid high-intensity exercise such as heavy weight lifting and high intensity cardiovascular training, which has shown to have negative impact on the immune system during a cold or respiratory infection.
Pay attention to how you feel. If you feel like you can exercise, then try a workout. Take it easy; reduce the intensity if you start feeling more tired than normal, and quit before you start feeling worse at any point during the workout.
If your symptoms are below the neck (intense coughing, vomiting, upset stomach/diarrhea, chest congestion or tightness) you should postpone physical activity and let your illness run its course. You shouldn’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue, body or muscle aches that are not related to any previous activity.
Bottom line is to use common sense. If you are feeling under the weather but you still want to work out, lessen the intensity of your exercise if you feel worse stop and take a rest.
Try not to use sickness as an excuse to avoid exercising. Major benefits of exercise are that it helps you feel better emotionally, mentally, and physically. If we pay attention to our bodies, strengthen our immune system through consistent exercise and practice good eating habits we may be able to lessen the chances of getting sick in the first place.
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