Exercising is almost always a great idea. It gives you an energy boost, a rush of feel-good endorphins, and helps your body become stronger and more resilient in every way.
However, there are certain times when going for a workout isn’t so smart. Maybe you’ve overtrained for weeks and it’s time to take a few days off. Maybe you’ve been pulling all-nighters for work and you need sleep more than anything.
There’s also the possibility you’re fighting off an illness, whether it’s a cold, a fever, or some type of viral or bacterial infection. Should you ignore the aches and the runny nose and make your way to the gym regardless? This is the question we’re all asking when winter rolls around.
Let’s figure out once and for all whether it’s smart to work out while sick, and discuss some things you can do to recover quickly to get back on track with your goals.
What Are Your Signs and Symptoms?
So, you’re sick. It happens. But what now? The first thing to do is look closely at your symptoms and try to be objective about the situation. Don’t get frustrated or overwhelmed. Zoom out and see what’s really happening.
The most common forms of illness in the modern world fall under the category of upper respiratory tract invaders, also known as URTI’s. These include colds, coughs, sore throat, and other seasonal illnesses that tend to get passed around in public spaces.
Everyone experiences these types of symptoms when the weather cools down and we start indulging in less-than-healthy winter habits, but should you avoid the gym?
Most trainers agree that if you simply have a runny nose or sinus pressure in the head, it’s probably okay to work out. Take some over-the-counter medication that suppresses a cough if you have one, so you don’t spread nasty particles in the air at your gym.
Things get a little trickier when you start to experience harsher symptoms that go “below the neck” such as chest congestion, stomach discomfort, and aches and pains throughout the body. This is likely a sign that your body is fighting something more serious like a fungal or bacterial infection, and you probably need to stay out of the gym for a while.
If you are unable to control your cough and need to sneeze every two minutes, it’s not very responsible to exercise in a public space where your sweat and CO2 will circulate through the air and all over the shared equipment. Use your best judgment and consider others.
Also do not underestimate your intuition when it comes to working out while sick. Your body will tell you whether or not it’s smart to go for a workout, and how intense that exercise should be.
Keep in mind that the symptoms you notice may not actually be an illness at all, but rather signs of stress, fatigue, poor diet, lack of sleep, or a number of other issues related to the immune system or hormones. It’s worth checking in with your doctor about these broader health concerns if you feel that you’re in a chronic state of general sickness and low energy.
Remember that working out isn’t the answer to everything — it’s just a piece of a much bigger puzzle of health and fitness. Get a comprehensive assessment of your well being and get the fundamentals in place before ramping up the exercise regimen.
Strenuous Exercise vs. Low-Key Activity
Let’s say you aren’t feeling 100% but you still want to get up and move around to keep that blood flowing and earn that endorphin boost. We definitely get addicted (in a good way) to the feeling of exercising, and we don’t want to let a little sickness get in our way!
But when battling a cold or something worse, you’ll want to proceed with caution to get the benefits of exercise without further compromising your health.
Experts suggest that different types of workouts have specific impacts on the immune response of the body, and any longtime fitness fans will know this to be true from experience. A mellow, light cardio session like a walk around the block can help you feel stronger and more energized, while a two-hour weightlifting session will drain the energy tanks and leave you depleted.
With this in mind, perform workouts that match your current level of wellness from an immunity standpoint. If you’re coughing, wheezing, and feel cloudy-headed, maybe some chilled-out yoga or a bike ride around the neighborhood is the best move. Once you regain a bit of strength, try something a bit more dynamic like an at-home dance workout routine.
From there, go day by day and assess your energy levels with honesty. Stay limber and flexible by stretching and get the heart rate up a bit each day, provided you have the strength and stability to do so.
Try out activities like Tai Chi, light swimming, power walking, hiking, or simply doing yard work or gardening outside. Physical engagement of any kind is never a bad idea.
Eventually, you can start cranking up the intensity of your workouts and incorporating more strenuous movements. Try out some heavier weights at the gym or try a more high-octane workout routine that incorporates hip-hop or martial arts movements.
If things start to regress and you notice symptoms worsen, pump the brakes and reduce the intensity of your sessions. As you work your way back to full health, you’ll have no problem handling more serious exercise and getting back into the groove.
Focus on Rest and Recovery
While some light physical activity can certainly help jumpstart the immune system, it’s not going to be the driving force behind your recovery. To fully conquer an illness, you need a holistic approach to health that addresses all aspects of your lifestyle.
This means getting enough sleep at night, eating a well-rounded diet of real whole foods, reducing stress from work and relationships, and taking time to rest to stay happy and motivated.
We tend to get sick in times of our life when we let our habits slip, whether it’s staying up late, indulging in bad food, or having a few too many drinks on the weekend. It’s all fun and games until you end up with a cold and you’re sidelined from your workouts for days.
The best thing you can do to speed up recovery is to get back to basics with the habits you know work well for you. Swap out the wine for herbal tea at night, leave the candy in the cabinet, and get to bed an hour earlier than you usually would.
Getting sick is your body’s way of telling you to slow down, so listen to what it says and downshift your lifestyle (including exercise) to help things get back to normal.
Getting Back in the Game
If you’re feeling energized enough to exercise but you don’t want to spread germs around the local gym, you’ll need to have a backup plan for an outdoor or at-home workout.
The path of health and fitness lasts a lifetime, and you’re going to come to forks in the road where you don’t know which route to take. Maybe you’re feeling some mild symptoms and fatigue, but you’re not sure whether to work out or not. What activity can you safely perform, and what should you do to quickly move past the illness?
Such things will never be fully clear from our own perspective, and some outside help can go a long way. That’s why everyone could benefit from the help of a workout support group and a team of online trainers to help you navigate these obstacles.
Let’s say you’re overcoming a cold but you aren’t sure whether to hit the gym or do a low-key yoga session at home? Just ask one of the trainers in your group or talk with another member of the crew to get a few pieces of advice and make the best decision from there.
Part accountability, part camaraderie, part instruction, part motivation! The right fitness membership group can be all of these things rolled into one, and help you out in a big way when things get tough.
Our modern world is filled with amazing conveniences and medical advancements, but everyone battles some sickness now and then. It’s important to not let these setbacks derail your health and fitness journey, and know how to get things back on track ASAP.
Follow these guidelines and try to boost your immunity with various techniques and supplements to protect yourself from future episodes. The fewer sick days you take away from the gym, the quicker you’ll obtain the fitness results you’ve always wanted!