The colder winter months are upon us and with them comes an increase in the spread of illness. While a regular regimen of exercise is an important component of maintaining a healthy immune system, people are often unsure of when it is okay to exercise or train after having been ill. Below are a few questions to ask before undertaking exercise while sick:
1. Are you training with other people? Is your illness communicable?
If you’re sick, your illness is communicable, and you train in an environment with other people around (i.e. martial arts school, yoga centre, local gym, etc.), you should make adjustments to your usual training. This means working out at home instead, whether it’s going through your training patterns in your living room, working out on your stationary bike, or using your yoga DVDs. As far as deciding when it’s safe to go back to your usual training ground, be conservative. This is important for maintaining the health of people you train with or around (as per my post 4 Ways to Prevent Illness in the Dojo). According to How Stuff Works:
Most experts agree that adults with a cold or the flu start being contagious about a day before they start experiencing symptoms. For the flu, the contagious period then lasts 5-7 days into the illness. The contagious period for a cold lasts about three to four days into the illness. As a general rule, people with a cold are most contagious about three days after their initial exposure to the virus.
2. Do you have a flu or a cold?
Though it’s generally accepted that exercise can help boost your immune system, you probably should take it easy if you have the flu. This is especially true if you have a fever, which usually lasts 2-5 days when you have the flu. According to WebMD, a fever is a sign that your body is battling a viral or bacterial infection. Exercising may stress your body even more and result in dehydration. It could also delay your recovery from the flu. That being said, WebMD is a little more liberal when it comes to colds. When considering whether or not to exercise with a cold, they say that it’s safe as long as you listen to your body in addition to the following:
Sometimes cold medications such as decongestants can increase your heart rate. In addition, your heart rate is increased with exercise. The combination of exercise and decongestants can cause your heart to pump very hard. You may become short of breath and have difficulty breathing. If you have asthma and a cold, make sure you talk with your doctor before you exercise.
Of course, if you do exercise while you have a cold, stick to solo training when your illness is still communicable as per the previous point.
3. Can you stick to a light to moderate workout?
According to WebMD, working out too hard with a cold could stress your body, causing you to feel worse. This additional stress may hinder your recovery. I remember one time I thought I was over my cold and I started my intense running workouts again. It was a bit premature and the more intense exercise exacerbated my cold, leading to a full blown sinus infection that put me out for well over a week. If you’re going to exercise with a cold, you’re better off sticking to light to moderate workouts that don’t stress your body as much. Because your body is already in a weakened state, over-doing it can lead to much worse things. And if you’re simply not capable of taking it easy, you should probably avoid workouts in which you might be tempted to go harder. I generally stick to working on striking form at a slower pace, light workouts on my stationary bike and some of my less intense yoga DVDs.
4. Have you talked to your doctor?
Seeing a doctor about your illness is always a good idea and they may be able to give you a more accurate timeline of when it might be safe for your to exercise (if at all), as well as as an idea as to when your illness is no longer communicable. Regardless of the information provided above (noting that I’m not a doctor and the info came from websites I have researched), your safest bet is to talk to your family physician about your own unique case for your own health and the health of people around you.
If for whatever reason it’s not safe or advisable for you to work out, remember there are other ways you can train in your martial art or sport. Visualization training is something you can do pretty much any time, anywhere as long as you can focus your mind on it.
Do you ever exercise when you have a cold? If so, what sorts of workouts do you do? Please share them in the comments to give other people ideas. 🙂