Exercising While Sick

It’s a common question that people have. When you’ve found your groove and your workout schedule has become second nature, coming down with an illness throws a wrench in all that–especially if you are in the middle of training for something. But what should you do? Rest? Exercise through it?

It all depends. The simple answer is: listen to your body and see how you feel.

I’m stubborn and I hate it when my routine gets messed up. When I was overweight I got sick a lot. I think part of that was being unhealthy all around. After losing the weight, I noticed that my immune system improved tremendously. Now I get sick about twice a year tops–I get a nasty cold in the fall or winter and then it never fails, I get a cold in February and am home sick for a few days.

Sometimes when I get sick it’s because I’ve been doing too much and not taking enough down time. I have two rest days a week but if the other 5 days are intense exercise, maybe more than usual, I can get worn down. There are two signs that I am getting sick. The first, my heart rate is elevated when I’m not working out as hard and the recovery time is very slow. The second sign is fatigue. I am not a napper and if I suddenly want to nap or feel run down, I know a cold is on it’s way.

Stress definitely plays a factor in sickness. I think a cold is nature’s way of telling us to slow down, rest, recuperate. Like I said above, my history of getting a nasty cold is like clockwork. February or March and October or November is when it happens. Getting a cold twice a year isn’t as bad as it could be and it’s definitely not as bad as I used to be when I was unhealthy!

This past year has been one of the most stressful I’ve had in a long time. There have been a lot of factors contributing to that. Injury has been a big one. Have you ever heard of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale? It was a study done in the 60’s trying to determine a correlation between stress and sickness. Follow that link and take the test to see where you rate.  I took the test and scored a 303. See the chart below:

Score Comment
300+ You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future.
150-299 You have a moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future.
<150 You have only a low to moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future.

Scary, huh? I’ve been definitely trying to find alternative outlets to relieve stress so that I can hopefully avoid getting sick as a result. So I am totally shocked that I haven’t gotten the annual cold this year. (Of course, now I’ve jinxed myself!!) I think one of the factors that has contributed to my good health this year has been taking Fish or Krill oil once a day.

This is a new addition to my diet. I eat a lot of seafood already, but Michael and I have started taking Krill Oil once a day–probably around January or so. That’s the only thing that has changed my from diet and I think that’s what is keeping me healthy! Crossing my fingers this healthy streak continues.

So when do you need to stay home? When can you power through it?


When To Rest? When To Exercise?

Do you have a fever? Stay home. You’re probably too sick to exercise and you’re probably contagious. This is a good rule to go by.

Vomiting? Diarrhea? Common sense says rest! How embarrassing would it be to  lose it at the gym? Yikes. Oh, and if you’ve had diarrhea in the last 48 hours do not swim.

Chest congestion? Stay home! Especially with cardio. I cannot imagine how miserable and difficult it would be to run with a chest cold.

Sneezing, coughing, mild cold symptoms? It’s usually okay to get in a mild workout and I in fact do workout if I feel physically fine. Sometimes it’s just allergies or maybe it’s a cold that hasn’t taken over.


What’s Your Rule?

My general rule for exercising while sick is to listen to my body. If I’m feverish or lethargic I stay home. If I feel crappy but not ill enough to stop most activities, I suck it up and go. Sometimes that workout actually makes me feel better!

The bottom line for me is that sometimes it’s not worth it to power through. I see a lot of people on Twitter continuing their routine while sick. To be honest, they are almost always runners. Is it because us runners are stubborn? Or obsessed with training schedules? Who knows! All I know is that junk miles that make you miserable because you’re ill aren’t worth it to me!

“The controversy is that many medical professionals suggest that working out while sick is actually detrimental to the recovery process because the body is stressed when it should otherwise be resting and healing itself. Some have suggested that all the studies performed by Ball State University show that working out releases endorphins in the body as a result of the extra physical activity, therefore allowing a patient to feel better due to the endorphins and not necessarily because of any improvement in cold symptoms.” (source)

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention this. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine in the gym world. Remember gym etiquette–always wipe down machines you use. I carry a travel size hand sanitizer in my gym bag, as well as wet wipes to clean machines before and after I use them.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Listen to your body. Know your limits. Don’t beat yourself up for taking a few days off to rest. This current injury has taught me that it really is okay to take some extra rest days once in awhile!

QUESTION: Where do you draw the line for exercising while sick?

8 Responses

    1. Thanks Suzanne! I can usually tell when something is imminent. Sometimes I can shake it off and not get sick if I catch it in time, but not always. Like last month when I got a sinus infection and didn’t know I had it!

  1. All great points! I tend to get too wimpy & I’ll use a headache or sinus problems keep me from working out. Not good! But you’re so right about listening to your body. And stress! Exercise is usually THE thing that keeps my stress levels down. But I can see how it can make people sick!
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    1. Sinus issues are not fun for swimming. I had a sinus infection last month and couldn’t figure out why it felt like my head was going to explode when I went swimming…. 😛

  2. I exercise with a cold, but not with the flu or with a chest/sinus infection. It takes a lot to make me skip a workout. If I’m sick I dial it down, though.

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