“I personally always try to stick to my workout schedule even when I’m sick,” she said recently in her app. “I’ve been fighting a cold for weeks but don’t want to stop working out and lose motivation!” However, she admits, “sometimes you just have to listen to your body and take a break.”
So…what’s the right way to go? Should you just push through an illness and keep up with your regular workouts or take a break? Experts say it depends.
Dean Padavan, MD, a sports medicine physician with Atlantic Sports Health in New Jersey, admits that it’s a little tricky. “It really does depend on the person’s diagnosis,” he says.
If you have a common head cold, for example, he says you’re probably fine to keep doing what you do. But if you have something like mono (which can present itself like a common cold sometimes), it can be really dangerous to exercise.
Got a fever? Take a pass on working out, says Sanford Vieder, doctor of osteopathic medicine and medical director of Lakes Urgent Care in West Bloomfield, MI. “You shouldn’t do anything strenuous or aerobic at all,” he says. “You can do some stretching, but most of these illnesses are short-lived. It’s not going to deteriorate your conditioning in a couple of days.”
Vieder recommends following this rule of thumb: If you have an illness that’s above the neck (and you don’t have a fever), it’s generally okay to do mild to moderate exercise. But, he adds, “if something is causing you pain or making you feel unsafe or unsteady, that’s an indication to stop doing whatever it is that you’re doing.”
For illnesses below the neck, like a chest cold or bronchitis, you really want to skip anything strenuous, Vieder says. Why? “You could make it worse,” he says, especially if it’s in your lungs.
While those are the “rules,” experts stress that above all, it’s important to go with how you feel. Says Vieder: “Listen to your body—that’s always the best thing.”
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