Winter is coming and along with it is a string of illnesses that you are very likely to catch. No one can stand being sick but should you workout or rest when you are sick?

Yes, the conventional wisdom is to rest when you are sick as your body is working hard to get rid of the illness. Naturally you think it wouldn’t make sense to put more stress on your body at this time. However working out when sick depends on your symptoms.

You should definitely be staying at home and resting if you have…

  • Severe Sore throat

  • Chest congestion

  • Muscle aches

  • Upset stomach

  • Vomiting

You can work out if you have…

  • Minor sore throat

  • Mild headache

  • Nasal congestion

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

This is considered the above/below the neck check. Symptoms above the neck should be OK for working out whereas symptoms below the neck are a no go. However even if your symptoms are above the neck it doesn’t mean you are OK to work out. If your initial instinct is to rest then follow this instinct. It is better to rest for a few days than prolong the sickness.

Can exercise reduce the length of illness?

There are not many studies in this area as it is highly controversial to infect people and track the changes. However some studies have looked at moderate intensity exercise effects on illness recovery.  Subjects were intentionally infected with the rhinovirus, a common perpetrator of upper respiratory illnesses. They found the illness did not significantly impact performance or impact the severity/duration of the illness. However subjects did report they felt better after exercising. Therefore even though exercising did not affect the duration of the infection it did make it more tolerable.

However if you are going to exercise when sick make sure to choose dialled down less intense exercise than you usually do. Decrease the weight, sets, reps and time working out. Avoid going to failure and keep hydrated. If you feel your symptoms getting worse stop immediately. According to research the best exercise option when sick is light to moderate cardio. You still get a decent workout but avoid the stress of a more intense workout. If your symptoms get better the next day, ramp it up a bit. But if your symptoms get worse, best practice is to rest.

Also keep your workouts at home or outdoors. Do not go to the gym and spread your germs around!

Stay healthy!

Tim

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