Should You Exercise When Sick?
She looks like half the city right now. Photo via Shutterstock.
Since Boston’s flu epidemic made national news, you’d think the whole city would be on edge. But we haven’t seen people walking around in masks just yet. In fact, even though a snowstorm there are still people out jogging on Boston’s streets as if it is summer. So we asked Dr. Karen Dasilva, deputy chief medical officer at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Chelmsford about when it is safe to exercise when sick.
When should you (or when can you) work out when sick?
Generally, it’s okay to work out any time a person feels up to it. There is no strict guidelines, but often a person feels better after working out even with respiratory illness because it helps mobilize secretions, also known as phlegm or congestion. There’s also evidence that once you are starting to feel better, you’ll recover more quickly from your illness if you start to move and become more active rather than prolonged rest. Prolonged rest can be associated with chest infections and deconditioning while exercise can in fact be energizing.
When should you stay away from exercise?
Stomach viruses can often take a toll, so if you are having active vomiting or diarrhea I would do complete rest. I would offer that fever also indicates significant acute illness and should consider rest. Otherwise, I would listen to your body. If you try to exercise but have unusual shortness of breath or light-headedness, I’d hold off or ease up on the effort.
Is there a rule to live by? Like when people say that you should workout only if the congestion is in your head and not in your chest?
No, there’s no strict rule. In fact, as I mentioned before, sometimes light aerobic exercise with chest congestion will help you clear your chest. I would monitor for wheezing and shortness of breath though since there’s a condition called asthmatic bronchitis in which chest congestion irritates the airways and they spasm similar to someone who has asthma. If wheezing wasn’t present before exercise, the individual will likely not be affected but they should rest if they feel it.
When sick, should you take a different approach, like stay away from cardio but try yoga?
No, a lot of it has to do with what the individual is familiar with prior to becoming ill. They may not be able to work out doing cardio as hard as they might be used to but otherwise I would leave it to the person to decide what sounds most desirable.
Listen to your body and don’t push too hard, but get moving as soon as you feel up to it.