As we transition from the holiday season and move into the New Year, resolutions and an aim to get back on track in the gym is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, this time of year is also when we are more susceptible to illness. When is it okay to push through an illness and when should we give our bodies a break from working out?

You have the Common Cold

The common cold affects your upper respiratory tract–your nose and throat. Symptoms can vary but generally include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and congestion. Given that you do not have a fever along with these symptoms, exercising is okay if you scale back on the intensity.

Staying moderately active can help boost the immune response, make for a better night’s sleep and open nasal passages to temporarily relieve any congestion.

You caught the Flu

Influenza affects your entire respiratory system–nose, throat and lungs. Common symptoms include a fever over 100°F, aching muscles, chills/sweats, fatigue, cough and sore throat. If you catch the flu, it is advised that you skip your workout and resume when you are feeling better. The muscle aches and fever you are experiencing are indicators that your body is fighting off a virus–let your body do that and do not push it with exercising simultaneously.

You have a Stomach Virus

If you caught the norovirus (better known as the stomach bug), you should plan to hold off on your workout and get some rest. The stomach bug leads to diarrhea and vomiting which can result in fluid loss, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. Exercising under these conditions and breaking a sweat can lead to further fluid loss and exacerbate your condition. Extreme loss of fluids, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can be harmful.

You have a Fever

When any of the above symptoms are accompanied by a fever, it is suggested that you take days off from working out until your temperature comes down. Exercising with a high temperature (anything above 100.4°F) can lead to many complications. An increased body temperature is an indicator that our bodies are working to fight off an infection or illness. Exercising under these conditions takes away from the body’s ability to fight off an illness and may even prolong the duration that we are sick. A fever should be gone for a full 24 hours (without the use of anti-fever medications) before returning to activity.

If symptoms lie above the neck–runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat–moderate exercise is okay. Anything below the neck–such as chest congestion or tightness, hacking cough, or upset stomach, delay your workout.

In general, a good rule is the ‘neck check’. If symptoms lie above the neck–runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat–moderate exercise is okay. Anything below the neck–such as chest congestion or tightness, hacking cough, or upset stomach, delay your workout. Additionally, do not exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.   When symptoms subside, gradually ease back into activity.

If you do choose to workout, reduce the intensity and duration of your session. Exercising at anything more than what your normal intensity is along with anything more than a common cold, can further your illness or put you at risk for injury. Let your body be your guide and always listen to what it is telling you. If you are unsure of whether or not hitting the gym is a good idea, call your doctor. Additionally, bear in mind that these illnesses are contagious and if germs come in contact with gym equipment, they can stay there for days. Be considerate of your fellow gym-goers and if choosing to workout, it is suggested that you do so at home.
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