Anyway, I didn't exercise, and this morning I got a bit of extra sleep instead of hitting the gym. I think it was the right thing to do, but it did get me thinking about what kinds of illness should stop you from working out, and which ones you can keep exercising through.
I'm not a doctor, not have I had any medical training. These are just my opinions and personal experiences. If you have any health concerns, you should consult with your health practitioner for the best course of action in your situation.
1. Head cold / Sore throat
Although a head cold can make you feel pretty average (no one likes to blow their nose 500 times a day), you can decide if you should exercise by considering the 'neck rule'. Symptoms above the neck (runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing) don't pose a risk to runners continuing workouts.
However, there are a couple of things to still keep in mind. If you are coughing and sneezing, you could easily be spreading germs around your gym (or office or train if you go into work too). Be mindful of others around you, and be extra vigilent about washing your hands after coughing or blowing your nose. Keep some hand sanitiser in your bag / purse for this purpose.
Also, even though exercising may not do you any harm, you might still want to consider scaling the intensity of your workout back for a couple of days. Instead of doing hill sprints, switch your workout with an easy run day. Or instead of hitting up a pump class, go to Pilates or Yoga. Be kind to your body, so you give it an opportunity to heal itself without extra stress.
2. Tight chest / stomach flu / nausea
Under the 'neck rule', if your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, intense coughing, vomiting, diarrhea), let your illness run its course before you start running again. Running under those conditions increases dehydration and may cause more serious issues.
Your body needs to use all it's energy to fight whatever the hell is going on in the inside. Make sure you keep up your fluids, and even consider electrolyte supplements like Lucozade. Sleep is also critically important to helping your body recover, so instead of that early morning gym session, given yourself an extra hour of sleep, and it might make the difference between getting better in a few days, or in a few weeks.
My illness consisted of some really awesome headaches, bordering on migraines. I have a bit of a history in this regard, so for me, the best course of action is to have some water and pain killers, and sleep it off in a dark room. The thought of moving my head off my pillow was not appealing, until the headache pain had substantially eased.
But I will say that generally being healthier has meant that I have been getting less headaches / migraines than I used to. While in a small minority of people, exercise may trigger headaches (often known as exertional headaches), most people with chronic migraines can actually ease the pain and frequency of their headaches by keeping fit. Here are some tips if you suffer from headaches:
- Exercise regularly. Go for a regular workout (aerobic exercise such as jogging, bicycling, or rowing) at least three times a week. Maintain a constant heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute for at least 10 to 15 minutes during each session.
- Work out in the morning. Exercise in the morning, not the evening, so you can wind down during the hours before bed.
- Avoid high-impact exercise during a headache. When you do have a headache, avoid jarring, high-impact exercise like running or kickboxing because it’s likely to aggravate the pain. Intense exercise will also cause you to sweat, leading to dehydration, which can worsen a headache as well.
Just make sure you rehydrate before, during and after exercise, because, at least for me, dehydration is often a cause of my headaches in the first place - I don't want exercise to make them worse!
If you're feeling a bit off, but aren't sure if it's serious enough to skip a workout, try taking your temperature. If it's above 99 degrees (F) or 37.2 degrees (C), skip your run. Have people told you that it's possible to 'sweat out' a fever by running? Yeah, not so much.
That's pretty much just not true - running won't help your immune system fight the fever. It is recommended that if you have a fever or the flu, you should hold off until the day after the symptoms disappear, and then go for a short, easy run (or equivalent). Wait one to two weeks before resuming the intensity and distance you were doing before you got sick. Otherwise, you risk a relapse.
Overall, I think one generic piece of advice is to be considerate of the people around you. You don't want to share, so if you do get out in public to exercise, and are not feeling 100%, make sure you use hand sanitiser, your towel, and make use of the disinfectant spray at the gym to wipe down equipment.
Also - listen to your body! It takes a couple of weeks of no exercise to start to lose conditioning you've built up, so you can afford to skip a couple of workouts, shake that annoying bug, and get back on track with your training faster.
Do you have any tips on when or when not to work out if you're feeling sick? What has been the sickest you've been when you've still exercised? What happened?