You’ve probably heard it already around Charleston and Mount Pleasant…that hacking cough, those sniffly noses. It’s Flu Season and germs are spreading like wildfire around schools, offices…and yes, even gyms.
We get it, nobody wants to take time off from your workout routine to nurse a cold. And exercising usually makes us feel so good…it’s easy to think that a quick trip to the gym might be what the doctor ordered. But how sick is too sick to workout? Obviously you are the only one who can really be the judge of that. However, here are some things to keep in mind.
The first question you should ask yourself is, are you contagious? While it’s perfectly okay to get your heart rate pumping when you feel the first signs of a cold coming on, please try to keep other gym-goers (and trainers!) in mind. Men’s Health puts it this way, “None of the other gym-goers want to catch your cold. That doesn’t mean you need to wear a Hazmat suit on the treadmill, but be mindful of your germs. Make sure to thoroughly wipe down equipment with antiseptic spray after you use it, visit the gym during non-peak hours, and bring your own sweat towel.”
Instead of hitting the weights, Precision Nutrition suggests taking a modified approach to your routine. Working out at your regular rate can actually cause you harm. “A structured workout routine — one where you’re breathing heavily, sweating, working hard, and feeling some discomfort — awakens a stress response in the body. When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to that stress. Over time, this progressive adaptation is precisely what makes us fitter and stronger. But when we’re sick, the stress of a tough workout can be more than our immune systems can handle.”
Health Magazine consulted chief health and medical editor at ABC News, Richard Besser, MD to find out how to handle exercise and illness. Dr. Besser recommends using “the ‘neck rule’: If your symptoms are above the neck—sneezing, sinus pressure, stuffy nose—then breaking a sweat is generally considered safe.” But if your illness has spread to your chest, causes aching muscles or any other symptoms (like dizziness or fatigue), pass on your workout…and if you have a fever, absolutely forget about working out until symptoms subside. Remember, there is no shame in honoring your body. If you are ill, your body is telling you that it needs to rest. DUFF and your routine will be happily waiting for you when you are feeling better!
So assuming that you DO feel up for some moderate exercise, what are some things that you can do? The first recommendation is to stay out of the gym. First of all, you will be sparing your workout peers exposure—and secondly, being around fitness equipment and other people breaking a sweat may cause you to over-do it (which is counter-productive to your health—and can be dangerous). WebMD warns that“You’ll need to watch out for certain risky situations. Physical activity increases your heart rate, but so can some cold medicines. A combo of exercise and decongestants can cause your heart to pump very hard. You may become short of breath and have trouble breathing. If you have asthma and a cold, make sure you talk with your doctor before you exercise. It may cause you to cough and wheeze more and make you short of breath.”
So instead of hitting the gym, get outside. The folks at active.com recommends walking: “even just a 20-minute walk can help you reap the benefits of regular exercise, and it may help improve your cold symptoms, as well.” And if you’re up for it, even light jogging can be okay. “As long as jogging is part of your regular routine, there’s no reason you need to skip it just because of a mild head cold. You can scale back the intensity of your normal run…since your body is already working in overdrive to help fight off infection.” Other great options include Hatha yoga and Zumba, but again, be sure to avoid groups and do these activities at home.
In a nutshell, it’s okay to workout with a cold (as long as an honest self-assessment proves that you’re up for it), just don’t do it around people! Active puts it this way: ”If you would not like the person next to you on the treadmill or who finishes before you on the elliptical to be sneezing and coughing and wiping their nose, than do your fellow gym mates a favor and do a lighter workout at home, instead. Germs can spread easily on machines and in the locker room…so it’s best to stay away while you’re contagious.”