As we reluctantly welcome the flu season, the age-old question of whether working out is a good or bad thing once again fills conversations in and out of the gym. Let’s unpack this topic and understand when it’s safe to put in a quick workout when you’re feeling under the weather.
First, we have to understand that exercise causes stress on the body. But that kind of stress triggers a positive response. As we continue to expose our bodies to that kind of stress (cardio, weight lifting, etc), we begin to adapt and this sort of progressive adaptation is what helps us become stronger and fitter in the long run. When you’re healthy, your immune system has a better fighting chance to ward off the sickies. But if you’re really sick, it might just wreak havoc on your immune system to go for a heavy session at the gym, thereby causing you to be out of commission for much longer.
If you feel like you’re coming down with a cold (the common cold, that is), you should still be okay to exercise. But if you start feeling even worse after working out, then it’s probably best to take a day or two off and just rest up. I tend to feel guilty about missing training days so unless I’m feeling like death, chances are I’m going to be at the gym that day. I just need that iron pump, even if it’s a quickie. You can maybe only push yourself up to 50% of your usual gym routine so that you don’t beat your body up too much and still be able to get a good sweat session. Make sure to hydrate well throughout your workout session.
You can opt for a low-intensity cardio session on the bike or a brisk walk on the treadmill, just enough to get your heart rate up to about 50 to 60% THR (target heart rate). Cut your time in half from an hour on the bike to maybe half an hour, or even less than that. You’ll want to avoid a hard session because that only puts more stress on your immune system which will make recovery time drag on. If you’re sneezy and coughing a lot, you would do best to stay out of the gym–lest you spread your virus and get other people sick. The first five to seven days is when you’re most contagious.
An easy and simple rule to remember is courtesy of Men’s Fitness and it’s called the above-the-neck rule: if your symptoms include a runny nose, dry cough or sneezing you should be fine to exercise. Rest if your symptoms are below the neck, such a chest congestion, muscle aches, upset stomach, etc.
There you have it, short and sweet. Drink lots of water (avoid alcohol!), eat right and on time, get enough rest, and listen to your body. Stay Tough!