Should You Exercise If You're Sick?

The answer: It depends.


In this post, I'll address exercising while sick and exercising as it relates to Covid-19.


DOES EXERCISE BOOST MY IMMUNITY?

Appropriate exercise does, yes, and you’ll gain immune-boosting benefits if you’re healthy. But over-doing it has the opposite effect.


As you deplete your energy during a hard workout, your immune system is temporarily impaired as you recover from that challenging workout and that makes you temporarily more susceptible to all illness. And, thanks to Covid-19 and the dumpster fire that is our current political landscape, we’re all more emotionally and mentally drained than usual right now. When our underlying stress baseline is revving higher than normal, that too lowers our defenses.


If you're feeling tapped out, focus more on health and less on fitness by engaging in exercise that feels more like self-care than self-abuse. If you’re smart about it, the benefits of appropriate exercise outweigh the risks so long as you’re feeling fine and are not symptomatic.


SHOULD I EXERCISE IF I’M SICK?

Usually no.


Non-strenuous movement like walking, stretching, or tai chi is fine. Everything else should wait. Let your immune system do its thing without zapping your reserves. You can set personal bests another day.


CAN I “BURN OFF” THE VIRUS OR ILLNESS?

No. That’s not a thing. You can’t “sweat out” sickness.


HOW SOON CAN I EXERCISE AGAIN? Let your symptoms and energy level be your guide (in addition to listening to your doctor), but a general rule of thumb is if you're sick for 3 days, take 3 days to ease back into it before trying to resume your normal routine and intensity.


SHOULD I AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE?

If you're sick, yes. If you're worried about getting sick, also yes. And avoid contact with surfaces where others are or have been. Whether you're sick or not, disinfect exercise equipment before using, as well as after, especially if you're at a gym or in a public space.


IS IT SAFE TO EXERCISE OUTSIDE?

Yes. Probably safer, in fact. This virus is more easily contracted when we’re in close quarters, because it’s spread through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. Out in open spaces, there are less opportunities for us to touch where the virus has touched, and research shows it doesn’t live very long on surfaces outside because of the exposure to UV sunlight. You can wear gloves as an extra precaution if you have to touch surfaces like door handles and traffic signal buttons.

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Exercise and the Pandemic


We're in the midst of a global pandemic, and everyone is on edge. Tensions are high which means immunity is low. It's more important than ever that we do the things that keep us healthy.

  • get adequate sleep

  • drink plenty of water

  • avoid inflammation-causing foods like sugar, alcohol, fried foods, highly-processed foods

  • maintain a consistent, appropriate workout program that keeps your body strong without crushing you into exhaustion

Usually, I coach my clients to exercise at a level that is challenging but doable, but now might not be the best time to test your limits and stress your body with punishing workouts.


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