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Should You Exercise When You're Sick?

‘Tis the season to be sicky…. I think that’s a pretty appropriate spin on a Holiday classic this time of year. One of the questions that I see come up often in terms of being sick and fitness, is whether or not a person should workout when they’re sick. Well there really isn’t one simple answer to this. I think more than anything, a person has to use a bit of common sense when deciding whether or not to rest up and recover, or get out and do some training.

Start by looking at what the illness is. A cold is one thing, but having a full blown flu illness is something entirely different. I certainly suggest that someone with anything more serious than the common cold not go to the gym or workout around others. That being said, if you do have a cold and are going to hit the gym, please use simple precautions to help reduce the likelihood of spreading the illness such as washing your hands often, using antibacterial hand-gels after each machine, and if the gym has anti-bac towels or spray remember to use it on each machine when you finish up.

There are certainly some benefits of working out when you are ill in terms of upping your mood. Sitting around or lying in bed can cause those of us that live active lifestyles to feel depressed and getting out for a quick run or even a walk can do a lot to make us feel better. Exercise can also help circulation and loosen up some of the crud that can build up in our lungs and sinuses. I personally train through most sicknesses I experience during the winter months and I can attest to the fact that the exercise and movement helps me feel better (if doing nothing more than getting my mind off of the sickness for a bit).

I suggest that you lessen the load, so-to-speak, when working out with a sickness. Obviously if you have a cold, the flu or any other type of common winter-time illness, I don’t suggest trying to set a PR 5K time or hammering out some tough interval circuits. Again just shoot for getting the body moving and the blood flowing. Illness alone can cause an increased heart rate, so keep this in mind too as you don’t want to elevate the heart rate too much while under the weather. Sweating can also have a cleansing effect on us and actually help to rid the body of illness. I always try to "sweat it out" a bit when ill, just to help my body rid itself of the potential toxins.

Just remember, working out at a low intensity can be a nice way to boost your mood when experiencing a common low-grade illness, but it is so important to use good judgment and common sense when it comes to it as well. Be certain not to overdo it and always be aware of the possibility of spreading the illness to others. Your body needs time to recover and heal itself from the illness, so you have to be willing for this to take place! It’s tough for us fitness buffs to take it easy when we’re sick, but sometimes we just have to be willing to do so. If you’re going to workout, make certain to keep it light and to increase your water intake before, during and after the exercise session.

In Wellness and Love, Dr. Chris

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