Exercising when sick

Man having a fluSo you’ve stuck to your New Years resolution to take better care of yourself. You’re feeling great, hitting your goals, and are finally seeing results…. then you get struck with an illness! Whether it is a cold, flu, or another illness, this will definitely put a thorn in your routine. But should you stop exercising when sick? As physical therapists we get this question on a regular basis during the winter flu season. And it is not just a simple yes or no answer unfortunately. But that is not necessarily all bad news depending on your symptoms.

The GOOD news

Exercise has shown to keep people healthy during the flu season. Researchers are even finding out that with a mild cold or flu exercising can actually help with your recovery! If you are experiencing cold-like symptoms without a fever or difficulty breathing, it can be safe to work out as long as you feel up to it. If you do decide to work out, you should continue to listen to your body. You may be more fatigued as your body is also working hard at fighting the illness. So take it easy and make it a light day. Don’t push yourself past what your body is telling you it can handle.

Break from exercisingThe BAD news

When you are sick the symptoms you are experiencing are due to your body fighting off the illness. But your body is also telling you what you should and should not do to help it. If your symptoms are so severe that you cannot get out of bed in the morning, you should likely stay in bed. You need to know your limits and listen to your body. If you feel up to exercising but then feel worse after 20 minutes into your workout then you should decrease the intensity or stop altogether. In a recent CNNhealth.com article they cite the common “neck rule.” The neck rule states that if your symptoms are above the neck (runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sinus pressure, headache) then you should be good to go. Bu,t if your symptoms are below the neck as with body aches, fever, or chest congestion, then you will likely want to sit this one out and save your energy for fighting the illness. In the early period of an illness you are also more likely to be contagious. If hitting the gym is your workout, then you also need to make sure you are not spreading your illness to others. Make sure you are showing consideration to others by not putting them in the same situation you are in.

Everyone needs a break and an illness may just be your body telling you the time is right for yours. If you are still questioning whether or not you should hit the gym after reading this then perhaps it’s best you play it safe and take a day off. If you are truly dedicated then you will bounce back once you feel better and continue on with your healthy lifestyle. Better to play it safe and live to fight another day than to delay your recovery or risk injury from working out when your body is telling you to stop.

Michael Phillip, PT

Physical Therapist

Synergy Manual Physical Therapy – South Office