“Should I workout when I’m sick?”
This is a question we get at Gage Strength Training every year, and there is no black and white answer for it. Put it simply, here are some guidelines to follow:
If your sickness exists above the neck, you can workout.
Below the neck, stay home and spend the hour you’d workout taking care of yourself or napping.
When should you come back to the gym? When you’re about 90-95% recovered from whatever illness you caught. On your first workout back, you need to go light. Don’t go crazy and try to set new personal records; you’ll only end up depressing your immune system and probably end up sick again.
So, there’s your answer on whether or not to workout. Now, what can you do when you get sick or to help prevent yourself from getting sick?
A little primer on some physiology, most people are reactive and not proactive about getting sick. By the time you are sick, the infection has already set in and there isn’t much you can do about it other than letting your immune system do its job and rest (or see the doctor it’s really bad). The key is to get ahead before a family member, coworker, or kid brings home the newest strain of the cold virus this year. Below are a few ways to avoid catching a cold:
Get Enough Sleep
Lack of quality sleep (less than 7 hours per night) will depress your immune system. The rest of the points I make below won’t matter too much if you are only sleeping five hours a night. If you can’t get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, try to carve out time for a quick nap if possible.
This is probably the 1000th email we’ve mentioned stress, but I can’t stress how bad chronic stress is for you. High levels of stress will depress your immune system. You can look back at other emails and posts to see what we’ve written about on this subject, but to put a simple actionable item here, take a few minutes each day to unwind. This might mean deep breathing, meditation, yoga, journaling/writing, doing a hobby you enjoy, going for a walk, taking a bath, or simply taking 10 minutes to enjoy doing nothing.
Recover from Your Workouts
Light workouts (walking, hiking, or even just doing some light weights and moving) can help stimulate the immune system. But moderate and high intensity workouts will temporarily depress your immune system. The harder you workout, the more you will depress the immune system and the easier it will be for an infection to set in. There is nothing wrong with working out hard this time of year, but if you’re around a few sick people, you might want to “leave a little in the tank” to keep yourself from getting sick.
Eat the Right Foods
Eating enough fruits and vegetables is already a battle for most people to do during the spring and summer, which means it’s often harader during the fall and winter month.sAccording to Precision Nutrition, only about a ⅓ of people get enough green fruits and vegetables in their diet, and less than ¼ of people get enough red, yellow, orange, white, and blue and purple fruits and vegetables.
Plus, what many of you indulged in yesterday during Halloween (myself included) had a large portion of empty calories. That means less room for foods full of vitamins and minerals which will help support your immune system.
When it’s 40 degrees out, probably the last thing you want is an ice cold glass of water. Water intake usually drops this time of year, and more than you think if you’re not actively tracking it. You’re going to drink less during these cold months including when you workout. To make matters worse, the drier air also slowly dehydrates you. Being dehydrated makes it easier to have infections set in, especially upper respiratory infections.
If you hate drinking plain water this time of year, try herbal or green tea, or even just warm water with some lemon in it. And if the air in your house gets dry, a humidifier can help, even if it’s only in the bedroom.
Watch the Alcohol Intake
Gin and tonics are replaced with red wine or old fashions, and low-alcohol pale ales are swapped for 10% ABV stouts. The lower alcohol drinks from the warmer weather actually help prevent you from getting so dehydrated after a night of drinking because of the lower alcohol content, but that’s not the case with what most people drink with colder weather. Since you’re probably starting out partially dehydrated, adding these stronger drinks will only make dehydration worse.
Also, alcohol decreases the quality of your sleep and can suppress your immune system. If you know you’re going to have a few drinks, plan ahead.
Wash Your Hands
Everyone is sick this time of year, this is an easy way to help stop it spreading to you or someone else in your household. Warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
Now, you’ve done all of this and still get sick (it’s going to happen to some of you), what can you do?
I recommend making a lemon ginger tea with fresh lemon, fresh ginger, and local honey. Steep the grated ginger for 5-10 minutes, then add fresh lemon juice (½-1 whole lemon) and a teaspoon of honey. Drink it a few times a day (I also do this if I think I’m going to get sick).
Chicken noodle soup is a traditional sick remedy for a reason. Having a few good cans of it might be a good idea if you get sick and you don’t have the energy to make it. If possible, make it yourself with the best quality stock or bone broth you can buy or make yourself. Kettle and Fire is a good brand you can buy at most stores.
Finally, give it time. When you start feeling better, you can start including some light activity.
And before someone asks, no, you will NOT gain weight because you’re sleeping on the couch all day when sick. Most people lose weight when they’re sick because their metabolic rate is much higher and they don’t have an appetite (but you gain the weight back because you have a crazy appetite once you’re well again). Focus on getting better, not on getting to the gym.