The answer is: It Depends
I’ve been battling an illness for over a week now. The general fatigue started last week and then caught up with me on Thursday and Friday. This week all the symptoms manifested and my mom is advising me to go to Urgent Care tomorrow if I’m not feeling exponentially better.
As a kid, I always hung onto sickness longer than my peers, so I’m not really worried but mom is worried it could be pneumonia if it doesn’t clear up. A valid concern.
Nonetheless, I continue going to CrossFit and at least moving around to work up a sweat. One of my CrossFit friends told me that he’s going to send me Anthrax in the mail if I got him sick. I thought that it was a little extreme, but I’m also convinced that I’m done spreading my germs.
But the question remains: Should I Workout When I’m Sick?
What do the Experts Say?
Dr. Jillian Kubala writes on Healthline that most medical professionals use the “above the neck” rule. This means that if your symptoms are mainly above the neck, mild sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, etc, you should be okay, minus a fever.
Anything below the neck, like a productive cough or frequent cough (where you’re coughing up phlegm or other material, not a dry cough), stomach pain, body aches, or flu symptoms, you should stop and recover completely from your illness.
But it also depends on your energy levels. If you feel like you can make it through with a mild cold or you’re just a little tired, dial back the intensity or shorten your gym session.
The consensus over at Precision Nutrition, who consulted 8 other medical professionals, essentially said the same thing: let your symptoms be your guide. If you feel good enough to exercise, do so at a lower intensity or do any activity like walking (outside if possible) light biking, yoga, tai chi, etc.
Professionals will each have different opinions on if or when to exercise while you’re sick.
Generally, though, you should probably stay out of the gym (oops) so you don’t spread germs to others. If you do go to the gym, wash your hands very frequently and wipe down any equipment that you use thoroughly.
Some Benefits to Light Aerobic Exercise when Mildly Sick
Research is showing that there can be some recovery benefit to doing light aerobic exercise while battling a head cold or mild sickness. Light exercise helps boost the immune systems response (innate and adaptive, meaning your natural immune system and your learned immune system) and can help clear your cold faster.
Just getting up and moving, getting the blood flowing, will make you feel good, but also help circulate out all the illness wreaking havoc on you.
If you’re working out moderately 3x per week, you’re actually helping to boost your immune system overall by stimulating the innate and adaptive responses, if you’re healthy. So when you are feeling good, keep up your routine and get all the immune benefits!
Be aware, though, that more exercise doesn’t mean a stronger immune system. High intensity sessiosns or LONG duration exercise were shown to suppress the adaptive immune system for up to 72 hours after exercise. But what might be high intensity for someone else might be moderate intensity for you depending on a number of factors, including age, how long you’ve been training, gender (believe it or not, women’s heightened innate immune response is theorized as the reason they handle colds better than men), obesity, and other chronic illnesses.
Ultimately, it’s your decision whether or not to workout when you’re infected this cold and flu season. Listen to your body and be aware of your symptoms.
The best way to prevent spreading illness is washing your hands and wiping down your gym equipment. We’re all guilty of not doing this (myself included).
Get your flu shot; herd immunity is a thing and can help prevent or decrease the intensity of symptoms if you do get the flu. I need to do this myself.
If you have a fever, productive cough, body aches, chills or other symptoms other than just what would be classified as a head cold or season allergies, DO NOT EXERCISE, PERIOD. Your body is already stressed and your immune system is taking a beating, don’t make it worse by being dumb.
If your symptoms don’t improve after 3 days or you don’t start to feel better, get to the doctor right away and have it checked out to make sure you don’t have something like the flu, pneumonia, or other upper respiratory infection.
Otherwise proceed with caution and commit to light aerobic work while you’re battling a small cold and your body should kick it in no time at all. Listen to your body though, and rest and get extra sleep as needed. Stay hydrated as well, this is a key factor in helping you feel better, as we can neglect basic care of ourselves when we’re sick.
I hope you found this helpful! Do you exercise when you’re sick? Let me know your favorite light exercise in the comments!
In love and light,
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