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Should You Exercise When You're Ill?

Updated on February 1, 2012

New Year's resolutions are abound with getting fit and losing weight at the head of the list. Maybe you've decided to join a gym or buy new running shoes in preparation for your fit makeover. January 2nd comes and you step out of a bed with the sniffles. January is smack in the middle of cold and flu season, too, after all. Should you workout with a cold? Here are some things to consider when making your decision.

If you have the flu, take off those new shoes and get back in bed. The flu is not something to mess around with. You'll end up wearing yourself down and possibly making things worse. Take a week off. The gym will still be there in a week. This is common sense, of course, but if you are revving to go in the new year determination could get the best of you. Stomach viruses fall in the same category. Stay in bed and drink plenty of fluids. Your workout plans aren't stimied forever, so don't fret.

If you're suffering from the sniffles you most likely have either allergies or a cold. A head cold can make you feel run down and tired just like any illness. Before heading out for a run, assess your situation. First, can you breathe? If you can't breathe through your nose it's a good idea to take the day off from exericse. Also, if you are doped up on cold medication and only temporarily able to breathe, you should probably sit this one out. Cold medication side effects are unpredictable. They can make you feel jumpy, tired and possibly dizzy.

Next, are you coughing or do you feel congestion in your chest? A chest cold is also nothing to sneeze at (pun's anyone?). It can make breathing shallow causing you to feel dizzy or unable to catch your breath when working out. A chest cold can also sometimes produce a fever. If you have a fever, you should stay home. There is some evidence that exercising with a fever can damage heart muscle so wait until the fever passes before heading to the gym.

If your cold is mild and not causing fever or breathing issues, it might be okay to continue on a normal exercise routine. Exercising with a mild illness can boost your immune system and possibly shorten the length of a cold. While no one is expected to be quarantined during a virus, have consideration for others. If you are going to the gym use common sense and courtesy. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Don't breathe heavily in anyone's face. Sanitize equipment at the gym for the next user.

Beginners may feel that working out during a mild illness is too much to take. This means slow it down. Only you know how you feel and will react to a workout. If this means your plans are delayed for a week or so, it's not the end of the world. Others may choose to exercise, keeping things lighter than normal. Everyone is different. Exercise is meant to make you healthier and happier, but this means taking care of yourself when your sick and not overdoing it.


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    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Great article. I'm suffering from a cold, so I'm going to make it an easy night at the gym and probably will spend some time in the sauna too.

    • profile image

      Poetic Fool 6 years ago

      Great fodder for discussion. My wife and son swear that exercising makes them get well sooner. If I exercise when sick, it invariably makes me feel worse. I thing this is an individual thing.

    • shesacraftymom profile image

      shesacraftymom 6 years ago

      It can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise consistently. I've found that any colds I have now are much less severe and much shorter than illnesses I had suffered before I started working out on a regular basis. The best motivation I've found is that it just makes me feel healthier, like I can breathe better and function with more energy. Also, once you exercise regularly and you take a couple weeks or months off, it is literally painful to go back. It's easier to do the workout than suffer that pain later.

    • ChasingAutumn profile image

      ChasingAutumn 6 years ago from Machesney Park, Illinois

      I agree that many times its better to sit out if you aren't feeling so hot. My problem is usually losing the drive to continue once I'm better. Any tips on that?

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Whenever I've been sick and start to feel well, working out usually makes me feel better. I'm for working out as soon as possible after being ill.