Health & Fitness Articles

Exercising While Sick

It's that time of the year...cold and flu season. But should your seasonal illness stop you from getting your daily exercise? Here are a few rules to consider before exercising when you're sick.
blood pressure check

Each day, millions head to the gym for a dose of their daily medicine. After all, exercise is a proven way to boost your mental and physical health. And, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, people who workout on a regular basis experience less illness. While it is good to dedicate time to exercise each day, there will come a time when it might be best to skip that workout.

One way to determine whether or not you should hit the gym is to use the “neck” rule.

“If the symptoms are above your neck, it's OK, says Brett McIff, Physical Activity Coordinator with the Utah Department of Health. “But, if the symptoms are below the neck, it's a little more of a problem. If you've got a deep bronchial cough, something that's deep down in your lungs, maybe you've got some gastro-intestinal issues, anything that's going to be involving vomiting, diarrhea, anything like that, then we say that it's probably time to just back off a little bit...give yourself 2 or 3 days before you get back into an exercise routine.”

And if you're running a fever, no matter what your symptoms are, don't exercise until your fever is gone.

Moderate exercise can be an immune system "booster," even when you are sick. However, more vigorous exercise can temporarily suppress your immune system for up to 24 hours after a workout. This increases your chances of developing pneumonia or bronchitis, or even a deadly heart muscle infection called myocarditis.  Illness and fatigue can also increase your level of clumsiness, causing you to strain muscles and joints when lifting weights.

“We spend a lot of time telling you that we want you to be exercising, says McIff, “but there are times when your body needs a rest.”

Here at Planet Fitness, in downtown Salt Lake City, trainer Meredith Demers tells her clients to gauge their level of illness on a "one-to-ten" scale.

 “Just be careful and just really listen to your body because you're the one who's really going to know of you're way to sick. Maybe do a scale of one-to ten. If ten is horrible and one's not bad...if you're past a 5, them maybe you should just stay away.”

Demers suggests some other important facts to keep in mind: you cannot sweat out germs and toxins. In fact, sweating can cause dehydration - which is also a common symptom when you are sick. So, if you choose to exercise, drink more water then usual.

swimming laps

And, if swimming is your exercise of choice, this is a good time to avoid the pool.

“Swimming… you can get things like stuck in your mouth and it's a great way to pass on germs and stuff like that so that's one you will want to be careful of.”

DeMers also says if you can't get through a single set on a weight machine without coughing or sneezing, stay home. Exercising in a public setting, like a gym, is a good way to spreading germs. Regardless, those who choose to go to the gym should 'always' practice good hygiene on the machines.

“If people aren't cleaning up after themselves, they are spreading things.”

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