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Can I Work Out While I'm Sick?

Here's When It's OK to Work Out Sick, According to a Doctor

There are plenty of reasons why someone would want to skip a workout, like being busy with other things, hungover, or just straight-up tired. Maybe the best reason of them all is that you're sick. But in a culture that celebrates people who push themselves to the very limit (sometimes when it shouldn't), you might feel guilty for taking a break. When it comes to exercising, it can be hard to tell when a cough or sneeze warrants a rest day . . . or two or three. That's why we talked to Darla Klokeid, MD, a Seattle-based family medicine physician at One Medical, to tell us when it's OK to grab your Lululemon leggings and when a day binge-watching Netflix is totally necessary.

When Should You Absolutely Not Work Out When You're Sick?

"A no go is if you have a fever," Klokeid said. "Exercise can actually decrease your immunity, so when you're in the fever stage of illness and you exercise, you're hurting your body's ability to defeat it," she continued. Body aches are another sign to hang up the Nikes for a while because exercise will make you feel even worse. Shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting are all other red flags that you need to stay in bed.

So Does That Mean That You Can Work Out If It's Just a Cold?

In the best-case scenario, people won't work out at all when they're sick, even with a cold, Klokeid said. You give yourself a better chance of bouncing back by resting during illness. But if you're going to exercise, "The rule of thumb I use is above the neck. If you have congestion and a runny nose and you don't have a fever, I think it's fine," she explained. However, the initial three to four days of a cold is prime time for your body to fight off the illness. So if you're itching to get back to the gym on the fifth day of your cold, consider this a green light.

If You're Feeling Under the Weather, What Kinds of Exercises Should You Steer Clear Of?

Sorry, runners and CrossFitters! "The more vigorous [the exercise], the more stress on your immune system," Klokeid said. The aim is to keep stress on your sick body to a minimum. So lower the intensity of your usual workout and avoid the hardcore stuff. Walking on the treadmill and yoga are good options.

Is It Better to Stick With More Cardio or Weight Training When You're Sick?

"Weight training is slightly better for you, but it still stresses the body, but not the same as cardio," Klokeid explained, adding that weight training can make your muscle pain worse. Working closely in sports medicine, Klokeid said that she's heard even the fittest of athletes say that they felt the soreness for longer and were more tired following their workouts while sick.

Is There Anything Extra You Should Do Before, During, or After a Workout When Sick?

Hydration is key during and after a sweat sesh, and the same is especially so when you're not feeling so great. "I think it's a fantastic idea to plug in some rest time during your workout," Klokeid said. Think about taking time to rest between your exercises. Listen to your body — if it's sick, it's trying to tell you something (and the message probably isn't to go run five miles). If you're someone who is eligible to take ibuprofen, 600 mg after a workout can help you feel better, according to Klokeid.

How Do You Know That Your Fever Is Gone For Good and You Can Work Out?

"Ideally, give yourself at least two days, three or four preferable, before working out, off of fever reducers," Klokeid said, noting that the body is trying to heal itself and you should cut yourself a break. "Your body needs you to work with it, not against it," she said.

Is There Anything Else That We Should Know?

"I think a lot of people contract respiratory infections at the gym," Klokeid cautioned. Think about all of the people you roll your eyes at for not wiping down their machine at the gym (gross, we know). But even if just one of them is sick, he or she could be spreading illness. So think of skipping the gym as a favor to your immune system and everyone else.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim
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