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Should You Exercise When You're Sick?

Should You Exercise When You’re Sick? A Guide to Making the Right Choice

As the cold and flu season approaches, many of us will inevitably fall ill and face the dilemma of whether to continue our workout routine or take a break to recover. While exercise can have immune-boosting benefits, intense training can actually suppress our immune system, making us more vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Missing weeks of training due to illness can be a setback for any athlete. So, the question arises: should you push through and train, or prioritise rest and recovery?

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, a simple rule known as the “neck check” can guide your decision-making process.

The Neck Check: Listen to Your Body A general rule of thumb is to perform a “neck check” to determine whether exercising is appropriate during illness. If your symptoms are localized to the neck and above (such as throat and head issues), you can engage in light to moderate-intensity exercise. However, if your symptoms are below the neck, it’s best to prioritize rest.

When Exercise is Okay: You can generally exercise when experiencing mild symptoms like:

  • Mild sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Earache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild headache

In fact, engaging in light exercise with minor illnesses can actually enhance your immune system and potentially shorten the duration of your illness.

When to Avoid Exercise: It’s advisable to avoid exercise when experiencing symptoms below the neck, such as:

  • Coughing
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Congestion or tight chest
  • High temperature/fever
  • Chills
  • Stomach bug
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhoea

Returning to Exercise Post-Illness: After your symptoms below the neck have resolved, it’s recommended to wait for an additional day before resuming your training. When you’re ready to start again, begin with a light session, such as a recovery pace run/ride or reduced weights in the gym. Continue training at a recovery pace until all above-the-neck symptoms disappear.

It’s important to be mindful of any returning symptoms. If they resurface, it’s crucial to halt your training and allow yourself more rest, as pushing too hard too soon can prolong your recovery.

Additional Tips for Returning to Exercise: Here are some additional guidelines to follow when resuming exercise post-illness:

  1. Prioritize Recovery: Pay attention to your body’s need for adequate sleep and rest during the recovery process.
  2. Consider Others: Remember that when you’re unwell, you’re contagious. Be considerate of your teammates and training partners, as they would prefer to stay healthy.
  3. Avoid Intense Cardio in Cold Air: Strenuous cardio exercise in cold air can irritate your lungs and airways, so it’s best to steer clear until you fully recover.
  4. Stay Warm: Dress appropriately to keep your body warm during workouts, as this can aid in recovery.
  5. Hydrate Adequately: Ensure you maintain proper hydration levels to support your immune system and overall well-being.
  6. Support Your Immune System: Consider supplementing your diet with Vitamin C, Zinc, and probiotics to assist your immune system in fighting the infection.
  7. Listen to Your Body: If your body is telling you that exercise doesn’t feel right during the recovery phase, it’s crucial to prioritise rest and allow yourself more time to heal.

Armed with this information, you can now make an informed decision about whether to rest or train when you’re sick. Remember, there’s no shame in taking a break to prioritize your health. If you need further guidance or assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Your well-being is our top priority.

Should You Exercise When You're Sick?