Runners are a hearty breed of people. Think about it. If you’re a runner you know how it goes. You tough through exhaustion. Inclement weather does not stop you. Perhaps you have shoes, clothing and outerwear to fit any circumstance. So when you find yourself sniffling, sneezing, or just feeling under the weather, you probably feel like you should just toughen up and push through. How do you know if you should exercise when sick?
Excellent question. A lot of that answer depends on exactly what your symptoms are.
Head Cold Symptoms
If all of your symptoms are above the neck, you very likely can still exercise. Running with a cold may even relieve your symptoms, at least temporarily. For some runners, the act of running opens up the nasal passages and helps clear the airways.
If you have been to a large race you probably have been subjected to watching another runner clear their nasal passages via the “snot rocket.” Many runners swear by the advice that if you run with a cold you will clear out the yuck and start to feel better faster.
When talking about nasal congestion, running often alleviates that. In addition to that running releases natural endorphins that can give you an overall feeling of awesome that translates into feeling better.
Sore Throat? Neck Ache? Cough? Chest Congestion?
If you have a sore throat, ask yourself if it seems related to nasal drip. If you don’t also have a stuffed up nose, you may wish to refrain from running with a sore throat.
If you are coughing and seem to have chest congestion, this is usually a good indicator that a rest day is in order.
Any type of soreness in the chest, shallow breathing or discomfort related to coughing that seems to be settled in your chest means you should probably not run.
Although it seems crazy, many people report if they run with a headache they can actually make the pain go away. One reason is the obvious one: it releases endorphins that help alleviate pain.
However, it is also true that exercise increases blood flow to the brain which can often help end a headache.
Lastly, if you are running outside the fresh air might be all you need to clear your head pain away.
Should You Exercise With a Fever?
Runners with a fever should absolutely not run. Fever can be a sign of a greater problem and if you have a fever your body is fighting something off. You should definitely rest on these days.
In addition to that, if you have difficulty staying hydrated you should rest.
Many runners get stomach issues when running so they don’t think twice about running with a yucky tummy. If you have been vomiting or have diarrhea, think twice about lacing up your shoes to run. Both vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and sweating through a workout is the last thing you need.
Taking time off to let your body fight whatever is running through your body can be a good thing.
Will Exercising When Sick Make It Worse?
That depends on what the sickness is. If you are already suffering from dehydration from fever and vomiting, you most certainly can make things worse.
According to WEB-MD, exercising with a fever can raise your internal body temperature, potentially to dangerous levels. If your fever is higher than 100, sit out.
Can You Sweat Out A Sickness?
Although many runners and athletes of other kind would swear differently, according to Medical News Today, y0u cannot sweat out a sickness. However, the reason this myth has been around for so long is that working out (such as running while sick) can actually help you.
First, regular exercise can boost your immune system. In addition, exercise can also reduce the risk of many common respiratory illnesses. If you are less likely to get them, that is a good thing!
Also, many runners report that getting in a workout helps them in many ways. Think about the last time you ran with a cold, for example. As you run it helps you work all of the fluids out of your sinuses and you can expel them. Doing so will probably leave you feeling a lot better.
The running community calls it “working up the yuck.”
If You Really Need to Move
What if you are sick but you really, really need to move? There are some types of exercise you could certainly do. First, if you are a runner, consider a brisk walk instead. Easy cycling is movement that might not leave you feeling worse than when you started, also.
Light weight lifting is another option if you are feeling too sick to run but like you need to do something. If all else fails, gentle stretching and/or yoga are always options.
The Covid Age
We would be remiss if we published an article tackling the question, “Should you exercise when sick?”, without discussing Covid-19. The coronavirus has been a worldwide game-changer.
When contemplating if you should run when sick, you need to take some things into consideration. Do you live in a populated area? While many of us have never hesitated to run outside with a cold and just spit up the mucus that comes up, since Covid-19 has entered the scene we need to be cognizant of the fact that this would make people uncomfortable.
Furthermore, consider that headache of yours. Have you been wearing a mask at work all day? That could be causing that dull thud in your head and you might just need some fresh air! Lace up and head out for a mile. You may be surprised to find that your headache is gone and you are ready to roll!
What once might have been a simple chest cold now leaves you wondering if perhaps you should get a Covid test. Since this virus is so dangerous for so many people, if you are running and experience any Covid related symptoms, dial it back. This is not the time to push yourself through any illness.
So, Should I?
What it comes down to is that the conventional rule of running if your symptoms are above the neck and resting if they are below the neck seems to be a good one. If looking to make a solid decision, consider this before you head out for a run.
Run smart, run safe and keep yourself healthy!