Can I Work Out If I’m Sick?

Signs That You Are Too Sick To Work Out


Now that cold and flu season has started, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to keep up with your workouts during this time of year.
As the temperatures drop and the days shorten, you may start to find yourself indoors more often. This seasonal occurrence brings you into closer contact with others, and if the people around you are ill it can hasten the spread of illness to you. In the summer months, you may tend to be outdoors more often and getting more sun exposure as well, which tends to boost your immune system by raising your levels of vitamin D.

So, with shorter days and cooler temperatures comes many a runny nose, sore throat, or that annoying cough and stuffy nose. These symptoms are most often associated with the common cold. Even though you’re feeling a bit under the weather the big question you may be asking yourself is – should I go ahead and work out? The answer to that question may be yes, and possibly no… Here’s why.

When you become ill with what typically is a viral illness you can experience fatigue, body aches, upper respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose with nasal congestion, sore throat, fever, nausea, vomiting and just plain old no Mojo!

So, should you work out? Well, the simple answer is that it depends on how you feel. If you feel well enough and have energy, then feel free to proceed with your regular workouts. That said, it’s crucial that you are well hydrated, well nourished, well rested and don’t have a fever. Your risk of injury will be higher if you are dehydrated, which usually occurs with gastrointestinal illness. Further, if you have nasal congestion or your ears are feeling full and congested, then your balance may be off. You may notice feeling a bit more breathless with less stamina and endurance if you are experiencing a cough or chest congestion. Running a fever will make you more prone to dehydration and confusion, which may make it hard to gauge how hard to push yourself.

The bottom line is that you should not train if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
• Fever over 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit
• Elevated heart rate: If you are over 10-20 points above your typical resting heart rate, you should stay in bed and rest
• Repeated episodes of vomiting and diarrhea
• Severe muscle fatigue and extreme tiredness
• Shortness of breath or wheezing
• Feelings of dizziness or faintness when you stand

In fact, the above symptoms should alert to call your doctor and get advice over the phone or make an appointment to be seen in the office. You should also seek medical attention if your symptoms have lasted more than 3-5 days, the typical duration of the common cold, or if your symptoms are getting worse instead of better over time.

If you are just mildly ill, it is probably safe to proceed with your workout but you may need to modify your plan to a shorter, less intense session. If you aren’t sure about whether or not to work out, or if your workouts are going to get progressively more difficult over the course of your illness, you should speak a medical professional. Either give your doctor’s office a call to make an appointment, go to an urgent care center if you are mildly ill, or go to an Emergency Room if you are progressively getting sicker.

If you or a doctor decide that you need some time off from training, then rest, rest, rest and drink lots of fluids such as water and juices rich in vitamin C. Keeping your diet healthy with lots of lean, healthy proteins like fish and chicken and lots of whole fruits and vegetables will have you on the road to recovery in no time… and before you know it you will right back up to par!

So, until next time… rest, hydrate, replenish and repeat!
Here’s to your best health ever!

Elizabeth Salada, MD MPH
Internal Medicine and Wellness

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