Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: I’m Sick – Should I Work Out?

Q&A Wednesday: I’m Sick – Should I Work Out?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Q: Here’s a quick question: how do you train when you have the flu? Do you? How do you drag your feet back to the gym when you’re still tired? ‘Tis the season of the office garbage flu around here and I couldn’t go yesterday…I want to go today because I took time off earlier but I’m not about to die either haha.

Very quick, indeed.

So, let’s think about what it means to “have the flu,” or “be sick,” or feel “under the weather.”

The flu – influenza – is a nightmare. I caught it once in undergrad, and I’m not sure how I came out alive. That being said, I also know that when folks say “the flu,” they don’t always mean the flu… the beast that it is.

You have to assess what it is you’re dealing with – are you just feeling at 70 instead of your full 100? Do you have something contagious?

First, let me say this – if you really, truly have the flu, if you are any kind of sick, and you have a gym membership… don’t go to the gym. Please. Stay home. Pop in a workout DVD, or hit up GaiamTV or FitnessGlo for an at-home workout, or go running outdoors. Don’t spread whatever it is you might have at the gym. That’s just not fair.

Now that that’s out of the way… think about what it means to “be sick.” Runny nose, stuffy nose, hard to breathe, tired, hard to catch your breath, fever, stomach ache, muscle-centered pain, headaches, maybe a bit of dehydration. Unchecked, these could lead to dizziness, fainting, and even potentially kidney issues thanks to the dehydration.

You need to be able to breathe deeply to sustain whatever it is you’re doing – if you can’t, don’t work out. Any kind of congestion is going to impede your ability to breathe, a necessity for getting oxygen throughout your limbs and keep you performing optimally.

If you’re experiencing any kind of digestive issues, don’t work out. Stomach aches are a no go – the wrong kind of pain can actually be exacerbated by excessive abdominal work, something that’s unavoidable during exercise. Diarrhea—whether you have it now, or if you’ve had it within the past 24 hours— is also a no-go. Diarrhea is bad and all, but it’s also indicative of a major loss of water (that’s what you’re, um, exporting) and basically means you’re dehydrated or damn close to it. Take the time to get re-hydrated.

If you have a fever, don’t work out at all. A fever is an elevated internal temperature, and an increase in that internal temperature due to exercise is risky business.

Stuffy nose, stopped up nose, runny nose, other issues indicative of a common cold? Reduce the intensity of the exercise, but still do it… preferably outdoors. A little fresh air taken in at a rapid rate can actually help with those conditions.

If you’re fatigued related to illness, don’t do it. Stay home. If you have a headache with sharp pain as opposed to a dull, flat one, stay home.

If you are just now getting better from these symptoms, then do your thing! Just be sure to do it slowly, keeping your heart rate low, and paying close attention to how you feel throughout activity until you’re back at 100%. I know that folks are afraid to “take a day off,” but I can assure you that it’s better to give yourself time to recover and heal than it is to try to train when you’re not feeling like you’re all there, so to speak. If you’re feeling bad, and have decided that you shouldn’t do your chosen activity, take a break and go for a walk, instead. This way, you have a low-impact method for assessing your abilities and your health for activity. The better you feel, the faster you can move. The faster you can move, the closer you are to feeling at 100%. The closer you feel to 100%, the sooner you can get back to doing what you love.

And that’s what we all want, right? So get after it!

Oh, and eat lots of oranges! Get your Vitamin C up! Your body will thank you for it…trust me!

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