If you've been diligent about sticking to a regular exercise schedule, you may be reluctant to let a few sniffles pull you off track. However, most health experts agree: there are some symptoms that mean it's safe to work out and other that indicate you need to get plenty of rest.
Learn how to exercise safely during an illness to stay at the top of your game and avoid infecting others.
How to Exercise Safely During an Illness
1. Remember that exercise strengthens your immune system. Your immune system uses white blood cells to fight off infections and diseases. Physical activity stimulates the production of these cells and makes them stronger to help protect you from sickness and premature aging.
2. Beware of exercising too much. On the other hand, there can be too much of a good thing. You can wear your immune system down unless you allow sufficient time for rest and recovery. Take at least one day off a week from intense activity.
3. Play by the “neck up rule.” It's usually safe to work out if all you have is a runny nose and sore throat. On the other hand, skip the gym and consider seeing your doctor if you experience tightness in your chest, trouble breathing, body aches and chills or diarrhea.
4. Take your temperature. For most adults, plan to stay in bed if you've got a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Overtaxing your body is likely to make your illness last longer. A fever also makes you more vulnerable to dehydration.
5. Monitor your heartbeat. If you run or engage in other cardiovascular activities, keep in mind that some decongestants will speed up your heart rate. The same thing goes for certain asthma medications. Use extra care.
6. Scale back a little. Sometimes you need complete bed rest. But other times, you can just reduce the intensity of your activities a bit. Try a low impact aerobic class instead of your usual basketball game.
7. Fight mental illness with exercise. Physical activity also plays an important role in mental health. Research suggests that aerobic exercise can reduce depression and anxiety and even help manage the adverse side effects of many drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders.
How to Avoid Spreading Infections at the Gym
1. Recognize the risks at the gym. Even the most expensive health clubs put you in close contact with other people's skin and secretions. Fortunately, there are many ways to lower the risk of fungal, viral and bacterial infections.
2. Spot the worst offenders. Studies show that cardiovascular equipment, dumbbells and exercise mats are often the worst sources of contamination. Use your own mat and wash it regularly. Wipe surfaces off with a towel and wash your hands frequently.
3. Hit the showers. Wash your entire body with an antibacterial cleanser. Change into fresh clothes and keep your workout wear in a separate compartment until you can launder it. A zip lock bag works well.
4. Give your feet extra love. Be sure to wash your feet and dry them thoroughly. Wear slippers or flips flops in the locker room.
5. Bring your own personal items. Use your own razors and toiletries. Drink from your own water bottle rather than the public fountain. You'll help lower your risk of exposure even more.
Consistency is essential for productive exercise. However, sometimes your body needs time to rest and recover from an illness. You can probably keep working out if your symptoms are mild and from the neck up. Otherwise, stay at home or check with your doctor to protect your wellbeing and avoid spreading anything contagious.