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Exercising During Illness: Yes or No?

Q: What do you suggest athletes do about their workouts if they aren't feeling well?

A: It depends entirely on the symptoms and the individual. As a very general rule of thumb, if you are experiencing mild symptoms above the neck (i.e. a head cold, sniffles, sore throat, or slight headache) it probably is okay to continue with your plan to exercise for the day. However, it's quite likely that you'll want to modify your workout according to how you feel during the warm-up and early parts of the workout. Generally, people with above-the-neck symptoms will feel better after doing their workout. Keep liquid handy to stay hydrated, and have a sweat towel handy to clean off any equipment after you use it so you won't offend others with your germs.

If you have a fever, aching muscles from something other than a workout, chest cold or deep cough, or other "below the neck" symptoms, exercise may actually make things worse. You might want to take a few days off, get plenty of fluids, and try to get some good sleep. Once you resume your exercise, make sure you take into consideration that you may have been fighting off a viral infection and plan to take a few days to ease back into it gradually.

Individuals react differently to illness. Some will choose to skip a workout at the very first signs of a cold; others might feel compelled to work out no matter what. Over time, you'll learn when it's appropriate to stick to your exercise schedule and when you should just call it a day. But if you're in doubt, try this: head to the gym and spend about 10 minutes getting into your routine. If after 10 minutes you still feel sluggish, ailing, or not into it, head right out the door. If you start to feel better, you may find that you have a super workout and end up fending off whatever was threatening to make you feel ill.

Other pages you may find helpful on our web site are Overtraining and Injuries.


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