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Health & Fitness- Exercising When Sick: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

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By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer

You have been so great about your new exercise routine, rarely missing a day since you started up again. Then, all of a sudden, you are waylaid by a cold or flu.

What should you do? Should you skip the treadmill or forsake that Pilates class for a late afternoon nap? Will it be hard to get started again if you skip a day or two?

The answer depends on what ails you, experts tell WebMD. For example, exercising with a cold may be OK, but if you’ve got a fever, hitting the gym is a definite no-no.

Fever is the limiting factor, says Lewis G. Maharam, MD, a New York City-based sports medicine expert. “The danger is exercising and raising your body temperature internally if you already have a fever, because that can make you even sicker,” he tells WebMD. If you have a fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, sit this one out.

Maharam’s rule of thumb for exercising when sick? “Do what you can do, and if you can’t do it, then don’t,” he says. “Most people who are fit tend to feel worse if they stop their exercise, but if you have got a bad case of the flu and can’t lift your head off the pillow, then chances are you won’t want to go run around the block.”

“A neck check is a way to determine your level of activity during a respiratory illness,” adds Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing and tearing eyes, then it’s OK to exercise,” he says. “If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing body aches, fever, and fatigue, then it’s time to hang up the running shoes until these symptoms subside.”

The best way to avoid the problem is not to get sick in the first place.

Exercise in general can help boost your body’s natural defenses against illness and infection, Schachter says, adding that, “Thirty minutes of regular exercise three to four times a week has been shown to raise immunity by raising levels of T cells, which are one of the body’s first defenses against infection. However, intense 90-minute training sessions like those done by elite athletes can actually lower immunity.”

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