Many people suffer with allergies, colds, and other minor setbacks throughout the year, but there seems to be little guidance on how much exercise is good to do during an illness. The next time you are feeling exceptionally tired and achy, you might want to refer to the following “dos and don'ts” to decide whether working out will help or harm your condition.
1. DO the “neck” check. Check your symptoms first. If you have symptoms (without fever) that are above the neck, such as a runny nose, sneezing, or a sore throat, moderate exercise is generally safe. More intense workouts can be resumed as soon as symptoms disappear. If you have symptoms below the neck, such as extreme tiredness, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, swollen lymph glands, or a hacking cough, it is important to allow at least two weeks to pass before returning to intense training.
2. DON'T exercise with a fever, which signals that you are battling a virus. Exercising under these conditions increases risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and even heart failure.
3. DO modify your exercise intensity. If you have cold or flu symptoms, more intense or vigorous workouts may make your illness worse. Moderate exercise, however, is fine for mild cold symptoms as long as your heart rate and body temperature do not get too high. Experts have suggested working out at half speed for about 10 minutes. If you are still feeling fine, you can begin to increase your intensity. However, stop exercising if you feel dizzy or nauseous or experience any other signs that symptoms are worsening.
4. DON'T overtrain or stress out. Choosing activities you enjoy and can do consistently may improve your desire to exercise and your immune function.
5. DO exercise to keep your immunity strong. There is a link between regular exercise and improved immune system response. Moderate exercise might help immune cells to move more quickly through your body and to better destroy viruses and bacteria.
6. DON'T infect or become infected. Be alert to air-quality conditions at your training facility. During cold and flu seasons, exercise during less-crowded hours to avoid catching or passing along viruses. Consider outdoor activities if weather conditions permit.
7. DO use common sense. You might want to stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. It's difficult to exercise when you're coughing and sniffling.
8. DON'T let a temporary illness stop you permanently. Focus on flexibility, stress management, and mind-body awareness during down times. In addition, plan ahead as to how to resume your activity program as soon as you can, rather than letting yourself drift into sedentary habits.
9. DO return to exercise when you're ready. Making up for time missed in the gym can drain your immune system all over again. Exercise at a lower intensity for each day you were sick, giving your body the time it needs to recover.
10. DON'T hesitate to consult with your doctor. Even if an illness seems to be minor, check with your physician if you have serious concerns about it. It is always better to be safe than sorry.