Should You Work Out When You’re Sick?

person doing a quad stretch outside

With the COVID-19 threat still looming, I wanted to talk about something we always wonder when we’re not feeling well at some point. Is it safe to work out when we’re not feeling so hot? Good news, just because you’ve got a stuffy nose doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do any sort of exercise. In fact, some physicians say that working out can even help you get over a sickness sooner. However, there are definitely situations when you should definitely not be getting your sweat on. Before we move on, please know this is not medical advice. If you are unsure about whether or not exercise is safe during an illness, you should definitely consult your doctor. The tips below are applicable to mild illnesses and symptoms. Please use your best judgement. 

When It’s Okay to Work Out

If you just have a simple, common cold, exercise can actually be a part of your recovery process as it can help clear up congestion by opening your airways. If you don’t have any symptoms below your neck (so, sneezing is okay, but you can’t have trouble breathing or chest pains) you’re okay to train. Just make sure you get in plenty of fluids and you stay alert to any worsening symptoms. Also, don’t go overboard and start deadlifting 400 pounds right out of the gate. Just start at a lower intensity than you normally would in order to gauge how you feel. If you go too intense, you can make yourself worse. 

When It’s NOT Okay to Work Out

if you’re having breathing issues, feel weak, have painful muscles, a tummy ache or are feeling nauseous, it is not a good idea to work out. All of these symptoms are pointing to signs that you are just not functioning at a high enough level to be able to exercise and you can seriously hurt your health by trying. If you can’t keep liquids down that’s also cause for the red light. Not only because hurling at the gym would be more than a little embarrassing, but no liquids means inadequate hydration which will not only be worse by the end of the workout, but can make you lightheaded during and put you at risk for passing out.

Finally, if you’re running a fever, you should definitely stay home. Not only is this a COVID-19 symptom, but is generally not conducive for workouts. If your core body temperature is high enough for a fever, it’s high enough for you to be at risk for overheating and dehydration. This is so dangerous for your body! Overheating will make your symptoms worse and, again, puts you at risk for losing consciousness. Overheating also causes fatigue and muscle weakness which just generally makes your grueling, sick trip to the gym a waste of time.

How to Keep Yourself Safe While Working Out When Sick

With all of this information in mind, if you feel like you are still good to go in the gym, it’s still advised that you take it easy and lift half the weight or do cardio for the half the time you normally should. You’re not setting any PRs with a cold and now is not the time to try. Only you can assess what’s a low intensity for you, but that’s the best course to take while you’re sick. If you’re still aren’t completely comfortable with lifting, try some steady-state cardio. For most people, this means a brisk pace on the treadmill or elliptical. Even better would be a light jog outdoors as the fresh air could do your sinuses some good. The absolute safest activity you can do for your body is foam rolling while you’re sick. If you do have below-the-neck symptoms or you don’t and you’re still not super comfortable with a full-on workout, take this time to foam roll and stretch. Not only is it better than doing nothing and can keep you from losing your mind if you are having gym withdrawals, but when you’re fully recovered and ready to get back at it, your muscles are gonna be nice and ready.

The bottom line? I hope I don’t have to say this, but if you have COVID…please don’t go to the gym. Even with a mask, the risk for others is too great. If not, though, you should be all good to workout as long as you listen to your body and don’t have any below-the-neck symptoms. Just stay safe, go slow and again, consult your physician if you have any doubts at all. 

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