'Tis the season for sniffles and a whole lot of germs! This back and forth weather is not doing us any favors either. I think nearly everyone knows someone who is sick right now (oh hey, me right now) in their office or amongst friends.
Which leads me to the topic today- this is probably one of my most frequently asked questions that I receive as a trainer:
should you workout when you're sick?
Being sick is no fun. Aside from the obvious reasons of suffering through irritating symptoms, it's also the toll it has on your usual sleep, nutrition, and workout routine. Some people immediately head for the bed to stay immobile for a few days while they're sick, assuming all exercise must stop, and then there are others who still go to their HIIT classes; neither of which really does you much good.
So back to the question of if you should exercise when you're sick: The answer to that question is not black and white. So today, I'm going to break it down for you, explaining a little bit of what's going on in your body, and some tips on how to expedite recovery.
First, some basic information.
Exercise is induced stress on your body. That's right, it's actually a stressor- not the "destressor" you hear about so much. But remember: not all stress is bad stress.
When we are healthy, exercise is a wonderful stressor for us because our bodies are capable of easily adapting to the stress of exercise, and that progressive adaptation is key to building strength and endurance. But when we're sick, our bodies ability to recover and adapt from our workouts are inevitably compromised, because all your bodies resources are already going towards damage control to fight off your sickness; so it doesn't have much left to help you recover from a grueling workout.
Okay, so that doesn't sound like I should workout, right?
Now this is where things get fun. Most all fitness experts in the field and doctors agree that your judgment is king here, when it comes to evaluating how you truly feel. No one else is in your body, so if you have an overwhelming instinct of YES or NO, you should follow that.
If you're toeing the fence though, let your symptoms be your guide.
If you're in the green light camp:
And you feel good enough to do something light, awesome! Some great light exercises like walking, yoga, swimming, biking, and a stretch flow can actually help expedite your recovery process. Breaking a light sweat and getting your body moving helps get your circulation going and your body the extra oxygen it needs. You can even continue weight training, as long as you keep it lighter than usual and stop when you feel over-exerted. Now is not the time to be achieving physical goals or pushing your limits!
One thing too, if you do choose to go to the gym, be mindful of yourself and of others. Not only is your immune system more susceptible to germs, but you also don't want to get other sick. Wipe down your equipment after use, wash your hands, and keep tissues handy. I've seen people wipe their noses with their hands and touch equipment (no wipedown after either), and even...spit phlegm into a water fountain🙅🤢
If you're in the red light camp:
Just focus on your recovery- the last thing you want is to prolong your illness that will keep you away from the gym even longer!
Focus on getting adequate sleep, managing stress, and your hydration/nutrition. Lots of tea (caffeine free) instead of coffee, water, and nutrient-dense foods to help your immune system fight off whatever it has.
Below are some of my favorite nourishingly nutrient-dense soups and smoothies that I rely on when I'm sick like this- I am so happy I have some of these soups in my freezer right now!
*This article is not meant to be in replacement of medical advice, and is based off common research in the fitness and wellness industry for the general population. Please consult a doctor for personalized advice.