Since cold and flu season is finally here, people have to start preparing for runny noses, hacking coughs, and muscle aches. However, many are wondering if it is best to continue on the same exercise schedule or hold off until the sickness passes.

In order to help people cope with this flu season, the director of primary care at Loyola University Health System, Keith Veselik, MD, suggests a few guidelines that people should follow regarding physical activity when they are sick.

Veselik says:

“We all know that exercise is key to good health, but there are times that your body may need a break. Having to slow down when you’re sick is Mother Nature’s way of saying don’t push it and it’s reasonable to pay attention to that.”

The choice to exercise or not sometimes depends on the sickness or disease, Vesselik explains. Our bodies are already forced to work harder and use more energy when we are fighting an illness.

People with heart problems, for example, put themselves in a risky situation by adding the extra strain of exercise when they are sick. Diabetics also need to be aware of their risks as well. When they are ill, their blood glucose levels increase and lower when they are exercising, meaning that they would need to monitor their glucose levels more often than normal.

Veselik advises to seek professional advice if you have a medical condition and are unaware of the consequences of exercising while sick. However, if your symptoms are above the neck (sore throat, runny nose), it is ok to exercise, he points out.

Veselik adds:

“If you aren’t feeling well, but still want to exercise, lower your expectations about what you can do. You don’t necessarily need to be in bed all day, but you can’t expect to have the same level of energy as you would if you weren’t sick.

However, you should not exercise if you experience certain symptoms, including:

  • body aches
  • fever
  • diarrhea or vomiting
  • shortness of breath or chest congestion
  • dizziness or light-headedness

It is important to also consider where you will be exercising and who could catch your illness.

“Though sharing is usually a good thing that’s not the case when it comes to germs. If you are coughing and sneezing just skip the Zumba class or basketball game and go for a walk or run by yourself instead,” Veselik said. “Also, always wipe down machines at the gym. You never who was using it before you.”

When returning back to your regular exercise routine, be careful not to have your standards set too high, he cautions. “It is important to go slow when getting back into your routine. You won’t be able to do as much right away and that’s ok. Initially, it should be 50 percent effort and 50 percent duration. Listen to your body and increase according to what it tells you,” says Veselik.

Written by Sarah Glynn