Exercise has been shown to boost the immune system. But what if you get sick? Should you continue your workout routine or take a break? The general rule is for mild colds, i.e. a head cold with the sniffles, it is okay to exercise as long as you don’t overdo it. For more severe colds that include symptoms like chest congestion and fever, it is best to take a break.

When not to work out

As you would at any time you engage in physical activity it is important to tune into your body for clues. Although the immune system is usually helped by exercise, when it is already compromised by a cold exercise can do more harm than good. For example, when you have a fever your heart is already working harder. If you add exercise you may be heading for the danger zone. Not only do you run the risk of damaging your heart you will likely prolong your illness. Chest congestion is also cause for a break from your usual routine.

Be a good citizen and skip the gym if you feel body aches or are sneezing and coughing excessively.  You won’t be helping yourself or others by spreading cold germs. As we head into cold and flu season remember that everyone is not a good citizen. Be sure to wipe down equipment before use and wash your hands thoroughly after each workout.

Also avoid working out if you have stomach trouble. Obviously, you don’t want to do any jostling of your body that could lead to an embarrassing episode. Enough said.

How to use your break time

When you are sick it is important to rest. Still, you may feel anxious to resume your regular exercise routine. This doesn’t have to feel like time lost or wasted. Why not revisit your goals during your downtime? You may want to review your progress if you keep an exercise journal or read about new exercise trends that can help you meet your fitness goals.  Try staking out new parks or bike paths. You could also use this time to prepare all your equipment and gear so that it is on hand and ready to go when you are feeling better. If you’re worried too many days off will make it hard to get return to your routine, make a plan now. Ask a friend to join you on your first day back or sign up for a class or race.

If you do workout when you’re sick

Doctors have offered this rule of thumb – if your illness is above the shoulders you are probably okay to exercise with modifications. So, if you aren’t feeling too under the weather it is okay to exercise moderately. For example, consider a walk rather than your usual run. You might also reduce your routine from 60 to 30 minutes. The key is to avoid vigorous or strenuous activity when you are sick. Again, this will only prolong your illness. There will be plenty of time for hard workouts when you’re feeling better.