While we combat colds and other illnesses this winter season, we wanted to take a step back and address an important question: should we keep up our regular workouts when we are feeling under the weather?
Extreme cold in the eastern United States and a resilient strain of the influenza virus has made for a particularly tough flu season. Illness can derail our daily lives, particularly our fitness routines. Of course, we want to recover with plenty of water and bed rest, but we don’t want to fall back our workout plans or lose the progress we’ve made over the first few months of the year.
So this begs the question: should we exercise while we are feeling sick?
The answer to that question depends on the intensity of your workouts. Research has shown that, in most cases, structured workouts with adequate recovery do awaken our body’s natural response to stress, which can give our immune systems a boost. But what if our immune systems are already working overtime to combat a cold or the flu virus?
Here are some steps to consider when you want to work out even when you are feeling ill:
1. Evaluate Your Symptoms
First, listen to your body and take a close look at your symptoms. There’s no need to stay in bed at the first sign of a sniffle, so moderate-intensity exercise or a less-strenuous activity may be possible. However, there are some clear signs that you should not engage in workouts, like a fever. A fever means that your body is doing battle with a virus, and it increases your risks of dehydration and heat stroke. You should also abstain from exercising if you have diarrhea, extreme coughing or vomiting. With symptoms like these, it is best to wait two weeks before returning to exercise.
2. Modify Your Intensity
When doctors discuss working out with an illness, they are sure to distinguish between simple “physical movement” and an intense “workout.” Some examples of non-strenuous movement you can complete while under the weather include walking and Spinning® classes at a Recovery Energy Zone® intensity. Again, these light-to-moderate exercises can awaken the body’s stress response and strengthen the immune system.
3. Don’t Overtax Yourself
When we’re sick, the stress of a vigorous workout may be more than our immune systems can handle. Some research has shown that a single, high-intensity or long duration exercise sessions can interfere with immune function. This is why some endurance athletes get sick right after marathon runs or century rides. On the other hand, those same studies show that consistent, moderate exercise and resistance training can strengthen the immune system over time.
4. Change Up Your Schedule
During the winter, shared spaces like gyms can become breeding grounds for the common cold. So we must first arm ourselves with some cold-combating strategies, like washing our hands frequently. If you need to be your local studio or gym, consider exercising during less-crowded hours to reduce the risk of catching or spreading any bugs. Or consider a solo workout. And if the weather permits, you can always walk, jog or take a leisurely ride outside!
5. Consult Your Doctor
While we encourage everyone to listen to their bodies when they feel under the weather, consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise program, or if you feel your symptoms need closer examination. After all, they are the experts!
We hope that you take these steps into consideration when thinking about working out when you are feeling sick. You’ll not only make yourself feel better, but may also help stop the spread of colds and flu this winter season.