You’re sneezing and sniffling, but you’d hate to skip Spinning—after all, you’ve been so good about hitting the gym lately. Why should you let a little cold derail your dedication? When it comes to working out while sick, most experts agree it’s OK as long as you use common sense. In fact, a regular fitness routine can even keep germs away in the first place: Research shows that moderate, frequent exercise raises levels of T cells—your immune system’s first line of defense—and people who exercise have fewer colds than couch potatoes. But overdoing it while you’re not feeling well can backfire, taxing your body and prolonging illness. On the fence about whether your under-the-weather workout is a good idea? Read on to see if you should break a sweat or take a rest.
Use the “neck check”
If your symptoms are above your neck—think congestion, coughing, and sniffles, exercising is OK, Lewis G. Maharam, author of Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Running told Reuters. If you’ve got fever, body aches, or a deep chesty cough, stay home. Go with your gut, though: if your above-the-neck symptoms are so bad they’re making you uncomfortable, hold off on exercise until symptoms improve, Jeffrey Woods, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told CNN.
Consider fever a red flag
It bears repeating: If you’re nursing a fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, crawl back into bed. "The danger is exercising and raising your body temperature internally if you already have a fever, because that can make you even sicker," Maharam told WebMD.
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Be a good gym citizen
If you decide to go for the workout, take precautions to keep your germs to yourself. It almost goes without saying that you should wipe down your equipment; in addition, it may be a good idea to skip group classes (no one wants to watch you cough your way through Zumba) and go at an off-peak time when there are fewer people around. Bring tissues, since working out may turn your nose into a faucet. (According to Mayo Clinic, exercise can open nasal passages and temporarily relieve congestion).
Dial-down your intensity
Now’s not the time to crank up that interval workout or push yourself an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill. Walk instead of jog or do a restorative activity like yoga or Pilates, Geralyn Coopersmith, author of Fit and Female: The Perfect Fitness and Nutrition Game Plan for Your Unique Body Type, advised WebMD.
Drink, drink, drink
It’s always a good idea to guzzle water while exercise and never more so than when you’re sick. The nasal drainage that occurs during colds coupled with over-the-counter remedies that contain antihistamines can cause dehydration, Daryl Rosenbaum, MD, director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, told CNN. Your body needs fluids to recover and get rid of toxins, so keep refilling that water bottle.
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