During the winter months when many folks come down with a cold, the common question of whether or not to workout comes up all the time. As a physician, I get asked whether or not exercising when you’re sick with a cold is a good idea.
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First, you need to know whether or not you have just a cold and not something more dangerous. When in doubt get checked by your physician.
Most people know what a cold (upper respiratory infection) is. Generally the symptoms include (but are not limited to)
- runny and/or congested nose
- sore throat
- and sometimes fever.
I see this daily in the clinic. The rule of thumb we use is: “Neck and above you’re probably fine, below the neck, sit it out.”
For colds, I generally leave it up to the discretion of the patient whether they want to work out or not. It is important to be in tune with your body and your recovery. Just a sore/scratchy throat with a slight cough/runny nose and otherwise feel fine? Generally, you’re OK for some light exercise. Just stay hydrated.
What if it isn’t just a cold?
- Fever (temperature of 100.4 degrees fahrenheit and over), productive cough, with some some body aches? You may want to get cleared by a physician before trying any exercise. I wouldn’t recommend those with the flu (influenza or influenza-like illness) exercise and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone with pneumonia exercise.
- Get off your diet. Dieting while sick will often keep you sick. Your body is going to naturally up your metabolism when it’s trying to heal, so if you are finding yourself hungry and craving things you normally don’t eat there is probably a reason. Being a bit more flexible is a good rule of thumb in this instance.
What about a viral gastroenteritis?
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever? I would try to work on keeping fluids down before exercising. Plus you wouldn’t want to make a mess at the gym.
The key here is really knowing when to pull back the throttle. Having been in division 1 NCAA collegiate athletics, I knew many that would push through mild to moderate colds. If one got the flu, they generally took it easy for a few days. Now as a physician, I stick to pretty much the same principles. Also when in doubt:
- Go see a doctor! I completely get it, you don’t normally like to take medicine and you have built a good immune system that allows you to recover adequately most of the time. If you have been under the weather for longer than normal just go see a doctor and the good news is the sooner you do the sooner you will be working out at 100% again.
- Stay out of the gym, if you are coughing and wheezing your way through a workout trying to “sweat it out” you are putting a lot of other gym members in danger of getting what you have. So stay at home and do what you can. When it’s time to head back to the gym you should be MOSTLY symptom free, it’s just the right thing to do.