When are you too sick to work out?

How to tell if working out will help you heal—or make your illness worse

When are you too sick to work out?

Surprisingly, when it comes to colds, doing a bit of exercise may pay off. Low-intensity exercise can clear the sinuses and nasal congestion, says David Pyne, senior physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport.

But hit the gym with something more serious and you risk making yourself worse. As a general guide, follow the “neck rule”:
• If your symptoms are “above the neck”—runny or stuffy nose, sneezing or sore throatyou’re okay to work out, but consider steering clear of the gym to avoid infecting others.
• If they are “below the neck”—chest congestion, hacking cough, aching muscles and limbs, or upset stomach—postpone the session until after these symptoms are gone.

Once you feel better, keep the exercise sessions short and easy until you are fully recovered. “Studies have shown that various elements of the immune system do not operate at full capacity after a strenuous workout,” says Pyne. Afterwards, stay warm, avoid other infected people, and rest and recover, he adds.

As well, don’t forget to drink water. Staying well hydrated is always important, especially if you’re taking antihistamines such as over-the-counter meds for a runny nose or cough syrups. These can dry you out further.

This article was originally titled "When are you too sick to work out?" in the November/December 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.

Best Health Magazine, November/December 2009; photo: Masterfile

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