You’re sick and wondering if you can–or should–exercise. Adults get approximately 2-3 colds per year, lasting between 7 and 10 days from start to finish. When you throw in the various other illnesses a person can get, such as the flu, you can easily spend a month out of every year feeling crummy. That’s a lot of blight.
Anyone who works out regularly will feel antsy about being sick. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder or training for a marathon to miss being active. It’s no surprise, then, that most gym-goers wonder whether or not continuing training will hurt or heal them.
Some doctors and fitness experts like Jillian Michaels say to use an above-the-neck/below-the-neck rule. If your symptoms are confined to your head–sneezing, coughing, and congestion, for example–then a lower-intensity work out might do you some good. Activities like walking, yoga, and light swimming or cycling can feel restorative and help open up airways. But pay attention: If you find yourself struggling to breathe, or if the chlorine in the pool is starting to irritate you, then you’re putting your already-stressed system under more stress and you should back off. Try to avoid lifting weights because your fatigue and sensory distractions increase the likelihood of injury. If you insist on pumping iron, use lighter weights and be extra careful.
Anything below the neck or that affects the entire body, such as bronchial or gastrointestinal distress, aches, fever, and chills, means that you need to sit on the bench for a while. These can indicate something other than the common cold that might take more energy or time to battle. Especially avoid prolonged or high-intensity exercise, which the Journal of Applied Physiology found to depress immune function for up to 24 hours.
Let’s say you’ve just got a cold or minor bug and can go. Should you? It’s really about personal limits. If your body is telling you to stop, then stop. One big thing to consider, however, and which people often forget, is courtesy. Much like a work environment, you’re risking exposing those at your gym or in your class to your illness. If you wouldn’t want to work out next to someone with a runny nose or bad cough, why should they?