Should I Exercise When Sick?

After a week trying to dodge the flu that’s been going around among my co-workers at the gym, I have finally been hit. Thankfully, the symptoms aren’t too severe: runny nose, sore throat, and a slight fever yesterday which has gone now. But they still were enough to make me reconsider my usual Thursday morning tempo run and lunchtime bike trainer session.

It’s a big bummer because I’m preparing for a lot of racing in October. I have the Avon Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer Manila Run on the 13th, and Tri United 3 on the 27th. I’ve already had to skip run sessions due to work, so this kind of setback makes me feel like I’m missing out on the training and might not be fit enough for the races. These are typical obsessive training thoughts especially for exercise addicts like myself, and I have to make a conscious effort to dispel them.

What is the saying? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Of course, it’s always better not to get sick, but once you do get sick you won’t lose fitness by taking a few days off. In fact, you can prevent being out for longer; your body can use all its resources to recover.

There’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to deciding whether or not to exercise if you’re feeling under the weather. Doctors, like Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic, use the “above the neck/below the neck” rule. If your symptoms are all above the neck (runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, mild sore throat), it’s okay to exercise, although you should reduce the intensity and duration of your workout. If your symptoms are below the neck (difficulty breathing due to chest congestion, hacking cough, upset stomach, fever, full body aches), don’t exercise!

I’ve come across Facebook posts from fellow runners who recount how they accomplished this training session or that race even if they’re sick. Kudos to them for gutting it out, but there are some instances where that accomplishment comes at the price of making them even more ill.

Regular exercise helps boost the immune system, and that’s probably why I’m not plastered to my bed right now. Unfortunately, exercise over 90 minutes in duration can depress the immune system, which is why we’re more prone to coming down with something after a long-distance race. In my case, it was a three-hour BODYJAM dance marathon that did me in. I’m doing my best to rest so I can be back in action soonest.

Once you do get well, it’s important to ease back into your workout schedule to prevent relapses, which are often worse than the initial illness. If my recovery goes smoothly I might be able to do a bike trainer workout on Sunday at the earliest. I won’t force it if my body won’t let me, though.

What about you? Have you exercised while sick, and what happened? What did you do to get well? Tell me all about it in the comments section.

About Noelle De Guzman

Noelle De Guzman is a freelance writer and recreational athlete with over 12 years of experience in fitness and endurance sport. She believes sport and an active healthy lifestyle changes lives.

10 thoughts on “Should I Exercise When Sick?

  1. Like my comment on FB. I do. As long as I still have the strength. But just enough to sweat and release the heat from my body. I don’t push too much. But there are cases if I really feel weak, I totally skip the day to completely take a rest.

  2. When sick, I add an extra set to my breathing exercises with my morning Suryanamaskar and leg raises. I leave out the arm weights until I’m completely well. Also, lots of fluids and rest.

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