Tis the season for all things cold and flu and if you've been unlucky enough to catch a bug, you know it can take you down HARD. And if you've got some lofty fitness goals, it can certainly throw a bit of a wrench into your plans. Not. Fun.
So the question is, do you "sweat it out" OR go back to bed? Truthfully, my views on this have changed over the years. I used to be a "sweat it out" kind of girl before I really understood what was going on with our bodies when we are sick. Plus I was much younger and more ambitious. Now I know better. Here is what is ACTUALLY happening to our poor little sick bods and why we need to pay attention:
When we're under the weather, our body is working overtime to fight off infection. It is using every ounce of energy it has to get rid of the nasty germ invaders which is why we are often left feeling like we've been run over by a truck. It's important to remember that exercise is a stressor (albeit a positive one) but a stressor nonetheless. Our body may not be able to fight the infection AND deal with our obsessive need to fit in a sweat session. That doesn't mean however that going to bed is always the best choice. Here are a couple of key things to consider before you lace up.
1) What kind of sick are you?
Do you have a high grade fever? Body aches, chills or dizziness? If so, we're done talking. Please go to bed. I don't want to hear another word from you. If you have a light cough or stuffy nose you are probably ok to move a bit but nothing too intense (think walking, light resistance training, or light yoga).
2) How do you ACTUALLY feel?
Does the idea of doing a workout right now make you feel like you wanna die? Go to bed. If being on your own two feet feels like a workout...time to lay down.
If you feel a little off but you think a brisk walk might make you feel better...go for it. It's important to listen to the cues that your body is giving you. If you listen, carefully it will tell you exactly what you need to do.
3) What is the purpose of your workout?
1) If your goal is to just feel a bit better and kick this sickness to the curb, then a workout gets the green light. Consistent moderate exercise is proven to boost your immune system so you'll be doing your body a favour. The key word here is "moderate". Just a bit of movement will do the trick. Walking, restorative yoga, or light resistance training are recommended as long as they don't make you feel worse.
2) If you are afraid of losing strength gains by skipping a workout know that a few days off will not set back your progress. Overdoing it however will do just that. A really vigorous workout (think HIIT, a long run or heavy weight lifting) can suppress your immune system temporarily post workout. If your goal is to get better and you're really really sick, exercise can actually hinder your recovery.
3) If your goal is to "get a gold star" for staying on your fitness plan...just relax. The world will come back soon and you will be able to get back on track. Focus on the big picture rather than micro-managing the day today. Have you exercised 4-5 times a week for a whole month? Way to go! Don't focus on the 1 or 2 days that you need to take off. Focus instead on how much you HAVE done rather than what you haven't.
Since you are a grown up, ultimately you are the boss of your body. You decide to rest or sweat and only YOU know what feels best for you. However, the bottom line is you can NEVER go wrong by truly listening to your body. It will tell you what you need to do. If you've got one of those " I feel like I wanna die" feelings, I think you are safe to trust your gut. And if you're still not sure what to do, check out this great infographic from Precision Nutrition and make an informed decision.
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