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Should I Exercise When I Have The Flu?



We’re almost through that dark and dreary time of year that we all hate. It’s early March, the weather’s beginning to slowly warm-up, and more daylight is headed our way. But, it’s not quite here yet. The last little bit of winter is hanging around longer than we’d all like it to, and this means many people will still have to battle through head colds and the seasonal flu.

If you feel your glands begin to swell, head start to pound, and throat starts to ache your first question is probably “How do I get rid of this thing as fast as possible?” If you’re an athlete or health enthusiast, you’ll probably also ask yourself “Should I skip today’s workout to rest completely?”

Before we answer the specific question of whether exercising is healthy when feeling down with the flu, lets first look at how exercising and your immune system are linked.

Does exercising regularly help prevent the flu?

The overarching answer to this question is yes, but it’s not the only influencing factor. Other factors such as getting enough sleep, managing stress properly, and eating healthy also play a really important role. According to recent studies, a steady exercise program has a cumulative effect of boosting your immune system over time. When germs and bacteria do try to invade during flu season, this means your body will have a stronger army to fight them off with.

Maintaining a regular fitness routine also has quite a few indirect benefits as well. Exercising encourages most people to live a healthier, more well-rounded lifestyle than their counterparts who don’t exercise regularly. How do you deal with a stressful day at work? Do you sleep well at night? Do you eat the foods you know you should? Lots of people exercise daily to cope with a stressful day at work, get a great night’s sleep, and also to encourage them to eat healthier. Cumulatively, all of these things can help boost your immune system even further.

Should I exercise when I’m sick?

So let’s get to the heart of the question here. The answer to this depends on the symptoms you’re feeling. If you have a high fever it’s best to refrain from exercising at all; just take a rest day. A fever indicates your body trying to fight off a viral infection or bacteria, and because of this, your body’s already at a higher level of stress. Even light exercise will raise your body’s stress level higher and will delay recovery even longer. On this occasion, it’s best to let your body rest completely and focus all of its power towards fighting the flu.

On the other hand, if you’re at the tail end of the flu, or have only a light case of the flu, go ahead and slip back into those workout clothes, but be cautious. It’s very important to listen to your body during this time. If you feel over-exerted then it’s best to back off the intensity a little. Exercising too intensely will temporarily weaken your immune system while your body recovers from your workout. This could allow your flu to worsen before it gets better.

Also, keep in mind that many cases of flu can be contagious! The last thing you want to do is spread your cold to the rest of your friends or family at the gym. In this scenario, it’s best to opt for a workout at home, or maybe a light solo run on the streets.