While we often appreciate the cooling drops in temperature during winter, what we don’t always appreciate is the subsequent spikes in colds and illnesses that come with it. From sore throats, sniffly noses and the aches and pains, it can be particularly difficult to do your everyday activities, let alone stick to your exercise routine (regardless of how desperately we want that “summer body”). What can be even more difficult is knowing if it’s even okay to be exercising if you’re starting to come down with a bug. Some people say “lie down and rest”, while others say “go ahead and sweat it out”. So the question is: “Can I exercise when I’m sick?”
The answer to this is yes (kinda).
It is okay to exercise if you’re sick, depending on the type of illness and symptoms you have!
Generally speaking, if your symptoms are above your neck, it’s probably okay to exercise. These symptoms include:
This is just a general guide, and not necessarily something set in stone. See how you are feeling and decide whether you want to move forward with exercising.
If you’re feeling up for some exercise still… that’s great! However, there are still some things that should be taken into consideration so that you don’t end up making yourself feel worse.
1. Lower the intensity of your workout
Even if you’re feeling well enough to exercise, it’s probably still a good idea to do a less intense workout than normal. A high intensity workout is only going to put more stress on your body, meaning your immune system is going to have to work double time to help fight off your bug, as well as help your body recover from your session. (We describe a high intensity workout as something that is going to make you breathless or feeling very fatigued)
Some examples of low intensity exercise that you can do are:
2. Make sure you get enough sleep
Getting an adequate amount of good quality sleep is important all year round, but especially when your body is fighting a bug. Our immune system uses the time we are asleep to help our body recover from injury and illness… so if you’re feeling a little under the weather, make sure you aren’t sacrificing those precious hours of needed sleep for a late night Netflix binge!
3. Stay hydrated
We tend to associate dehydration with summer and hot temperatures, but oftentimes dehydration can be just as bad during winter! When temperatures get cooler, we don’t feel as thirsty which can result in us drinking less water than our body needs. So even if you’re exercising on a particularly chilly morning and don’t feel thirsty, make sure you’re still keeping your fluids up!
4. Know when to rest
The way your body will respond to your bug and symptoms will change daily, especially when you throw exercise into the mix. Listening to your body and knowing when it might be time to take a step back and have a rest day is important. If you start feeling worse or new symptoms pop up, having a day off to let your body recover is not the end of the world!
At the end of the day, you will know your body better than anyone else, and the decision on whether to exercise while sick is entirely up to you. What I want you to know is that it’s okay to push yourself a little bit if you’re feeling up to it, but it’s also okay to take some time off to let your body catch up if you need too. Whatever you do, just make sure you take that NExT step into looking after your health.
Carly Rush - Exercise Physiologist