To exercise or not to exercise? That is definitely a question you should be asking if you are sick. Two days ago, I felt fine all day. Then we went out to do a little grocery shopping and as we were leaving the store, I felt…off. But we went by GameStop and then headed across the street to pick up some barbeque. By the end of our errands, which only took about a half-hour, I was headed downhill fast.
We got home, and I knew that if I didn’t do our 30-day challenge right away, I wasn’t going to be able to. By the time we were done, I was a sweaty mess! And these are not hard exercises. Most of the time, my muscles feel worked, but I don’t break a sweat. So I ate most of my dinner and then crawled into bed. I spent the whole night tossing, turning, burning and freezing. I took most of yesterday off work, but thankfully by the time I did go in at 3 pm I was feeling a lot better, and the fever had broken. So did I take a rest from my challenge yesterday? Nope. However, I didn’t do my 20k steps, and I didn’t dance yesterday either.
I refused to give up on my goal to hit a 30-day streak, but looking back on it, I probably should not have pushed myself on Tuesday evening. After reading up on exercising while sick, my mistake was exercising at all while I was running a fever. Yesterday, however, I was in the clear for moderate, low impact exercise.
So, to answer the question of whether or not to exercise when you are sick: It depends!
From my research on the topic, I discovered that if your symptoms are from the neck up (a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, itchy or watery eyes, etc) you should go for low impact, and low to moderate intensity. If you normally run, walk. If you normally walk, walk slower or less distance, etc. If your symptoms are neck down or whole body (a cough, nausea, fever, etc) then no exercise is the way to go.
The reason behind this? When you exercise, your immune system improves. This is why people who are active and include moderate exercise in their daily routines tend to get sick less, and the duration of their illness tends to be shorter. However, if you have a fever, raising your body temperature through exercise just makes it worse (case in point above). If you have a cough, the increased respiration can exacerbate those symptoms. If you are nauseous…well, you can see where I’m going with this.
The biggest take away from this is to gauge how you feel. If you hurt all over and just want to crawl into bed and sleep, take that as a cue that it’s probably okay to take a break until you feel better. If you can take a decongestant and feel okay, then you’re probably good to hit the treadmill, but maybe dial back the speed a bit.
In either case, taking care of your body when you’re sick, and when you’re healthy, is the best way to get over that illness a little faster.