If crazy weather has got you down, or a nearby sniffling co-worker is sharing germs, you might find yourself feeling less than your best. Next thing you know, it’s the common cold or flu.
For fitness fanatics, this situation will quickly beg the question: Should I still workout? How sick is too sick to hit the gym?
First things first, think about your symptoms. Drew Watson, M.D., M.S., breaks it down for Men’s Health this way:
“For symptoms isolated above the neck — think the congestion, sore throat, or sneezing of a common cold — you can continue light or moderate activity. … If your symptoms are below the neck — coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea — or system-wide, like fever or joint aches — you should flat-out skip your workout.”
Regardless of symptoms, if you start to feel worse, cut the workout short, Watson advises.
And, depending on what you have planned, even with those above-the-neck symptoms may want to dial it back. That’s because long bouts of exercise actually break down your immune system further.
“After one prolonged vigorous exercise session we’re more susceptible to infection. For example, running a marathon may temporarily depress the adaptive immune system for up to 72 hours. This is why so many endurance athletes get sick right after races.
“However, one brief vigorous exercise session doesn’t cause the same immune-suppressing effect. Further, just one moderate intensity exercise session can actually boost immunity in healthy folks.”
Even with just a light cold, vigorous exercise might not sound all that appealing, especially when you have work and family stress to reserve your energy for. If that’s the case, Precision Nutrition suggests skipping intensity but remembering movement, such as a walk or simple stretching session, might help you feel better. Not all exercise has to be a “workout.”
Regardless, when you’re sick, remember the first step to getting back on track with fitness after any kind of a setback: Be kind to yourself. If you don’t want to hit the gym, don’t — you’ll be back in action soon enough.
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