During cold, flu, or allergy season, it’s all too easy to write off exercise until you feel 100 percent — an approach that can, over time, deter you from reaching your fitness goals. While you should A-L-W-A-Y-S listen to your body, and take days off whenever you feel like it, not all symptoms actually warrant inactivity.
Before you collect your get-out-gym-free card, consider these guidelines from Gregory Stewart, M.D., team physician for Tulane Athletics, and Stephen Rice, M.D., director of the Jersey Shore Sports Medicine Center in Neptune, New Jersey, and a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine:
7 Signs You’re Too Sick to Workout
1. You feel light-headed and dizzy. Typically, standing makes the blood valves in your legs contract, which regulates your blood pressure and keeps your brain clear. But when a cold, irregular heartbeat or recent concussion leaves you under the weather, this process could be a bit off, and working out can make you feel faint and disoriented — a dangerous combo at the gym, and a surefire way to make things worse.
2. You’re achy, and you’re already sweating or shivering. They’re all signs you could have a fever, a defense mechanism your body uses to fight infection, which actually takes a lot of effort. When you hit the gym with a fever, though, it’s like working out double-time: It tires you out and more difficult for your body to fend off whatever is getting you down.
3. You’re nauseous or vomiting. While fresh air may help the nausea, moving around could bring up your last meal right in the middle of spin class. Totally not worth it if you intend to show your face at the gym ever again.
4. You look lethargic and pale. Not everyone is all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before they hit the gym. But if you feel so-so and have lost all your color, take the hint and give yourself a break.
5. Your mouth is particularly dry. Fending off infection depletes your fluids — it’s kinda like sweating when you do a tough workout — and dry mouth can be the first sign of dehydration. Because you’re already prone to this when you’re sick, you’d be smart to skip your sweat session and have a drink (like tea, not booze) instead.
6. You can’t put your finger on it, but you just don’t feel right. Unless you’re suffering from laziness and severe lack of motivation, listen to your body. It’s saying, “Save your energy and make an effort to feel better!” So go on, take it easy!
7. You feel a cold coming on. In the long term, working out can strengthen your immune system. However, even short workouts can temporarily weaken it. When you’re on your game, you don’t feel the effects of this post-workout dip. But when you’re already feeling crappy, working out can make you even more vulnerable to illness — especially if you work out in a germ-filled gym.
4 Symptoms That SHOULDN’T Mess With Your Workout
Only you know your physical limits. Use these guidelines to inform your decision — but no sweat if you decide to skip the gym, anyhow.
1. Your nose is kinda stuffed up, but you feel fine otherwise. If you only feel gross above the neck (i.e., you have a head cold, headache, or nasal congestion without a fever or aches) working out is A-OK. And if you’re coughing up a little bit of phlegm from your chest, but feel good otherwise? Hit the gym; you should be fine.
2. Cramps. Good news: Exercise triggers the release of feel-good endorphins and increases blood flow, which actually alleviates cramps! Sorry, not sorry.
3. You puked this morning, but you feel much better now. Sometimes when your body responds to illness by triggering an isolated spell of vomiting, it gets rid of whatever was messing with your system. As long as you’re well hydrated (i.e., your urine is clear, and there’s a lot of it), there’s no need to skip your workout.
4. You feel meh, but you’re super-antsy. You know your body better than anyone. If skipping a workout will mess with your mood, don’t deprive yourself. Instead, go with an activity you do regularly, and give it about 70 percent of your regular effort. Walking, yoga, or a little light stretching outdoors could be just what you need to feel better.