You wake up in the morning and you just feel awful. You thought you felt something coming on the day before, but you told yourself it would go away if you got a good night's sleep. Nope. It happens to everyone, but it can feel especially frustrating to fall ill when you've planned a work out and aren't sure if you can make it. What do you do? Stay in bed? Power through? Is it even a good idea to exercise when you're sick?
For clarification, in this post I'll be talking about temporary, short-term illness. I'll address dealing with more significant health issues in the future.
How Sick Are You, Anyway?
Are you really sick, or are you looking for excuses not to exercise? Will you feel better in a few hours? Everything that follows will be based on someone who is actually ill, but first I have to ask, are you just being a baby? If not, read on.
In order to determine what whether or not exercise is a good idea, you'll first need to identify what's really going on. Is this a cold? The flu? Food poisoning? Do you just feel icky?
Even if the answer is "look, I don't know, I'm just sick," you can do what's called the Neck Check: if your symptoms are above the neck (sneezing, dry coughing, sinus congestion), light exercise ought to be fine. Below the neck (chest congestion, upset stomach, aches and pains), and it may be better just to rest.
Another consideration is fever. If you are running a fever of 101 or more, raising your body's temperature through exercise is a bad idea, so it's time to cool it for a while.
But I Had a Plan!
Just because you're laid up with an illness doesn't mean you can't make progress towards your goals. If you aren't able to get to your workout, take that time to re-evaluate your workout schedule, read/watch some fitness-related material, work on a food journal, find a few new healthy recipes, etc. If you've been putting some of these things off, having time to get them done is a silver lining to the way you feel.
No Off Days, I'm Working Out No Matter What
If you do decide to make the workout happen, consider modifying the intensity. Going for a walk might be it for today. If you're lifting, you may want to work at lighter weight. If you've been neglecting flexibility training (or even if you haven't), this would be a great time to spend an hour or so stretching.
You'll need to be more diligent than usual about staying hydrated, especially if you're breaking a sweat, and you may need to give special consideration to fuelling your workout. If you've lost your appetite and you haven't eaten all day, your energy level will likely be lower than normal, so be honest with yourself about what kind of activity you'll be able to do.
It bears mentioning that if you are going to be sharing a space with other people (at the gym, studio, indoor track, etc), frequent and thorough handwashing is even more important than usual. You'll want to protect other people from your germs, and you'll want to protect your already over-extended immune system from theirs.
As in all things, only you can decide what's right for you. If you try an exercise and have to lower the intensity or even stop altogether, accept the reality of the situation that day. Light exercise might even make you feel better, but there's no shame in needing to rest every once in a while, and the better you take care of yourself, the sooner you'll be back to normal.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!