To Work Out, Or Not To Work Out: Illness Edition

Posted: November 12, 2011 by jerkmag in CRISP -- health
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When I was at the gym a few days ago, I couldn’t help but notice that the girl on the elliptical in front of me had a pretty bad cold.

Witnessing her hacking cough during her leg and arm pumping movements on the machine, I found myself asking the question, “How sick is too sick to work out?”

According to the Mayo Clinic, gym-goers should let their bodies be the guide. As a general rule, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., suggests that if your symptoms are “above the neck,” then you should be okay to sweat a little. However, if your symptoms are “below the neck,” you should probably take a break from the gym.

So, what constitutes as “above the neck” and “below the neck?”

If your symptoms are “above the neck,” then you’re likely suffering from the common cold. (Sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, minor sore throat–all that good stuff.) And while you’re clear to work out with any of these minimal symptoms, you probably should still take it easy. No one wants to run a 5K on the treadmill while having to wipe their runny nose every other step. Try walking that distance instead, maybe even at a slight incline.

But while it’s okay to workout with a head cold (recommended, even; it could make you feel better) working out with “below the neck” symptoms will just make you feel worse.

Anything below the neck constitutes as, well, “below the neck,” so that means chest congestion, a hacking cough or an upset stomach.  Other “below” the neck symptoms include fever, fatigue and muscle aches. (Those aren’t necessarily below the neck, but they’re symptoms that can affect the whole body.)

All in all, you have to listen to your body when it comes to working out when you’re feeling less than 100 percent. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, and taking time off from the gym will speed up your recovery time so you can get back in the game sooner. But if you’re stubborn like me, you’ll probably end up going to the gym no matter how sick you’re feeling. And if you end up getting even sicker from that, don’t come crying to me. Not only will I be forced to say, “I told you so!” but I’ll also probably be in the same boat.

—Amber Brenza

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