There are some days when feeling under the weather actually motivates me to work out a little. When I'm on my period, for example, I find that jogging gets my blood flowing just enough to alleviate my cramps, so I'm usually down for a short run around my neighborhood on those days. But when it comes to battling a full-blown cold or infection, I try to ask myself if I'm doing my body more harm than good by exercising, even if it seems like it'll help in the moment. So is it ever OK to run when you’re sick, or are you better off taking it easy?
Generally speaking, says David Barczyk, a chiropractor for Barczyk Chiropractic Group, going for a run when you're feeling sick isn't exactly the best idea. "When your body is expending energy on fighting off illness by producing more white blood cells," he tells Elite Daily in an email, "running (or other intense workouts) depletes these energy sources and interferes with the body’s defense mechanisms." Of course, he clarifies, there are many different kinds of "sick," and recommendations might be different depending on your illness. But if you're fighting off a fever, the flu, or a bacterial infection, rest and fluids are your best bet, Barczyk explains.
Even a common cold might be enough to slow down your running schedule until you recuperate, according to Joey Mo, a physiotherapist at Copeman Healthcare. Take some time off from your workout routine, especially if you're in an active infection period, he suggests. As soon as you start getting back to your normal self, you can pick things back up — but don't rush it if your body's just not feeling 100 percent. Remember, symptoms of a cold can sometimes persist a little longer than you'd expect. "For the rhinovirus (common cold)," Mo tells Elite Daily in an email, "this is generally one to two weeks."
If you're looking for a little more guidance as to whether hitting the pavement will make you feel better or worse, Nadia Shaukat, associate medical director at Paradocs Worldwide Inc., suggests following what she refers to as the "above the neck" rule. "Generally speaking," she tells Elite Daily, "if you feel well enough, and symptoms are 'above the neck,' it is fine to work out, but expect not to be as strong or as fast as normal." So, for example, if you just have a runny nose, you might be totally OK to jog for a few miles. If you do decide to run while you're still sick, it's important to be careful, Shaukat says, by not only reducing the speed of your run, but also taking breaks whenever you need them.
And BTW, Shaukat says that getting your heart rate up won't actually heal your sickness, despite what you may have heard. "You cannot 'sweat out' a cold," she explains. "Only rest and hydration have been proven to fight a cold or flu." Instead, she recommends resting during the first few days of a cold when your symptoms are more severe, and then returning to your regular schedule once you feel well enough.
You might think you can just push through the discomfort and crank out a workout anyway, but this might feel kind of miserable for multiple reasons. For one thing, Mo says, it could hurt your muscles' ability to recover post-workout. When you have a cold, he explains, your throat and lung linings are inflamed, so intense activity and heavy breathing can actually make your sickness worse. Stressing the tissues can make a bacterial infection even more severe, he tells Elite Daily.
So as soon as you feel a sore throat approaching, or become overwhelmed by a nasty head cold, brew a cup of warm tea and allow yourself to relax into your couch so that your body is free to heal as quickly as possible.