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Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

Posted 12/26/2016 by UHBlog

Flu season is here. Do you know what workout precautions to take if you get a bug? Talk to us.

Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

If this winter is like previous ones, you’re likely to get a cold, or worse, the flu. According to the National Institutes of Health, Americans get more than 1 billion colds annually and 5 to 20 percent of us get the flu.

That means chances are good you might be working out when you’re sick. But should you?

Basically, it depends on how you feel, says sports medicine specialist Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD. If you have the energy to work out and you don't have a fever, exercising can be beneficial.

“If you have a cold without a fever, you can do whatever you want,” she says. "In some cases, exercising can help clear you up and make you feel better – especially when endorphins are released.”

For some people, a mild workout eases nose or chest congestion by helping to clear the mucus.

But if you have a fever, exercising is a bad idea, Dr. Weiss Kelly says.

“If you’re sick with a fever, it increases your risk of dehydration,” she says.

Not only do you need to drink plenty of fluids and rest if you have a fever, but you’re also contagious. To avoid making others ill, stay out of the gym and away from group exercise activities for approximately five to seven days.

One illness – mononucleosis, or mono – may seem like the flu, but can sideline you much longer. In addition to the fever, sore throat, head and body aches and extreme fatigue that usually accompany the flu, mono can cause your spleen or liver to swell.

“If you’ve got mono, we don’t want you participating in any contact sports for at least 28 days because your spleen can rupture,” she says. “You don't have to go to bed and stay there for 28 days, but you have to be cautious about being contagious or harming yourself.”

According to Dr. Weiss Kelly, with some rest and relaxation, you should be back in the game after a week to two weeks. If you aren't recovering or if you can't stay hydrated, that's when you need to see your doctor. Also, when you start working out again after an illness, go slowly and do light exercises at a low intensity and gradually build up, Dr. Weiss Kelly recommends.

Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD is the division chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and the division chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Weiss Kelly or any other doctor online.

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