Should You Still Exercise When You’re Sick?

man in bed, sick

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Getting sick is inevitable. Even if you practice healthy habits, wash your hands all the time, take your vitamins, and get a good night’s sleep, you can still end up not feeling well. But what about going to the gym when you are sick? According to Greatist, there is a simple rule to help you decipher when you can sweat out sickness, and when it is better to bundle up under a blanket.

“Remember this easy rule: If your symptoms occur around your neck and above, it’s OK to do a light workout. If you’re sick below the neck, stay home,” the site advises.

So, if you’re debating whether the gym is a good idea or not, ask yourself if you are sick above or below your neck.  No matter what your decision is, it is important to remember to not overdo it. When you are sick, exercise may make you feel better throughout the activity, but it’s best to stick with a lighter workout.

Livi Roy, M.D., internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical school, explains the best rules to follow if you go to the gym with a cold. “If you got a little cold, it’s best to scale back, decreasing both the intensity and duration of the workout,” Roy tells Greatist.

If you have a fever, body aches, or chest congestion, even a scaled back workout could be too much to handle; it is better to stay home and stay hydrated. In this case, working out will only compromise your immune system more and could set you back further in recovery.

Harry Pino, Ph.D., the senior exercise physiologist at NYU Sports Performance Center, explains the affect of an intense workout, even when you are not feeling under the weather. “Any time that you are performing (athletically) at high levels, you compromise your immune system,” Pino explains to Greatist.

This is why post-workout recovery is important no matter what. However, when you feel sick and work out you should take special consideration when focusing on recovery after your workout. According to Men’s Fitness, not only what you eat to refuel, but also how long you wait to refuel is critical after workouts.

“The longer you wait to refuel, the less efficient the body becomes at putting these nutrients to work … You have an optimal window of time to take in carbohydrates and protein after each workout,” the site says.

When you are sick, your body may already be depleted of certain nutrients, which makes this process even more critical. You also need to make sure you drink extra water to avoid dehydration. According to a study published in 2015, regularly working out will help regulate and boost your immune system naturally.

However, it is also important to realize that regular intense working out is hard on your body, so if you are a gym junkie you need to make sure to take care of yourself outside of the gym to avoid being sidelined by sickness. “Since stress, smoking, poor sleep, and nutrition can all contributed a suppressed immune system. It’s a good idea to focus on building up before you start challenging your body with a new workout routine,” Greatist suggests.

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