I’m Sick. Should I still exercise?

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Should you still exercise?

It is tradition that I, along with many more people, get sick shortly after the holidays. As we wind down from the rush and stress of the holiday, end of the semester or both, we don’t always eat well, sleep properly or exercise regularly.

Unfortunately, even as a dietitian, I am no exception. Starting yesterday, I had a bit of a sore throat. Last night, I had some trouble breathing when I was laying flat. Today, I have both of those with some sinus issues, sneezing and a headache. While I would love to have a great excuse to not exercise, I wonder if I really do.

Sometimes it is pretty clear that we shouldn’t exercise: a migraine, vomiting and other pleasantries associated with a sick GI tract, or my favorite kidney stones. I bailed out on a running partner because of that one.

So what are the guidelines for exercising while sick? Here is the mantra I go by:

“If it is in your head, go ahead. If it is in your chest take a rest.”

I don’t know where that comes from, but it has stuck with me for years.

If it is in your head…

Sore throat, stuffy nose, sneezing coughing, and a general cold, most of the time you can still exercise. Go ahead, but you should probably go it alone so you don’t get your fellow exercisers sick, and take it down a notch: walk or jog instead of run, take an easy bike ride and not a moderate to hard bike ride, or do the low intensity version of your regular workout.

The only exception to this “rule”: if you are running a fever. Generally, you don’t want to exercise with a fever. Just rest it out.

If it is in your chest…

Respiratory issues, chills, aforementioned stomach issues, and a generally achy body (assuming it isn’t muscle soreness from yesterday’s workout), take a rest until you feel better.

Not sure…

Sometimes you just aren’t sure what you have or aren’t sure if you should exercise. Things like “morning sickness,” a low-grade migraine or other headache (from a hangover perhaps), and suspected or confirmed injuries are certainly not contagious, but whether you choose to exercise depends on how you feel and/or how debilitating the illness or injury is. A walk, even for 20 minutes, tends to help for most of these issues or cross-training if you have an injury. NOTE: if you have an injury you may need to get clearance from your physician. Post –surgery many years ago, I got clearance to exercise, but going for a 20-30 minute walk was exhausting. It wasn’t the surgery so much, but the residual effects of the anesthesia (as the surgeon told me). It took four to six weeks to be able to go for a full hour without needing a nap.

Tomorrow: I’m a going to exercise, since my symptoms are all in my head. But I really believe they are there.

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4 thoughts on “I’m Sick. Should I still exercise?

  1. juliecwallace says:

    Thanks for this post! I just got over being sick and it was mild so I worked out (low intensity) and I really think because of my healthy nutrition practices and hygiene practices, getting a little more rest than usual, and continuing with some low intensity working out that I got better faster than usual without going to the Dr. this time. Hope you feel better soon!

  2. Jessica Bowhall, MBA, RD says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I was just thinking about this this morning because I couldn’t breathe with all the sinus congestion. However, it’s a gorgeous, sunny day out today so I might go it alone at the park vs the gym. Thanks, ShelRael!

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