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Do I Exercise If I’m Sick?

Athletes, even us aspiring athletes, are a bit crazy sometimes; I’ll be the first to admit it. Why? Because we’ll sacrifice our health and well being for…well, our health and well being. How many times have you had to talk yourself out of a workout because you know you’re getting sick. Or worse, how many times have you ended up forcing yourself to follow through with your unrelenting training plan and gone ahead with a workout when you know you’re too sick to be doing much of anything? This isn’t healthy behavior. And if we’re all in this trying to be the healthiest, fittest versions of ourselves we can be, why do we insist on denying our bodies the rest it needs when we’re sick just to satisfy our egos? Well, I think the short answer, without going into too much Freudian discourse, is because we’re used to controlling how our body feels and we expect certain things out of it. And when we’re sick, suddenly finding ourselves losing control of our body and not able to do a damn thing about it, it messes with our head. Suddenly you’re in the odd spot where you want to take control of your body back from whatever virus or bug and show it who’s in charge, who owns their own destiny –you. And that’s why today we’re going to talk about a few ways to know if it’s a good idea to exercise if you’re sick.

The Neck Rule

I heard this one a long time ago and it’s basically the cornerstone upon which I base all my decisions as to whether I exercise or not. Especially if I’m thinking of something endurance based. David Nieman, Ph.D., who heads the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University, and is a marathon runner 58 times over is all about “the neck rule”. He says if your symptoms are below the neck, such as body aches, a chest cold, or a bronchial infection, then take some time off. However, symptoms that appear above the neck, such as a runny nose, a stuffy nose, or sneezing don’t seem to pose a serious risk to folks who want to get their exercise in.

There’s even evidence to support “the neck rule”. At Ball State University, Tom Weidner, Ph.D., director of athletic training research conducted a study, where he took two groups of 30 runners and inoculated them with the common cold. 30 runners ran 30 to 40 minutes every day for a week, while 30 were sedentary. Weidner found that, “the two groups didn’t differ in the length or severity of their colds.” In another study, he found that running with a cold didn’t compromise performance.

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Hot Or Not

Take your temperature. If it’s above 99 degress, don’t do your workout. Dr. Nieman says that exercising with a fever can make the fever worse and it can cause serious issues. During exercise, your heart is pumping much more blood from your muscles to your skin to keep you cool. This puts even more stress on your heart because it needs to work extra hard to pump more blood through the body and up to the skin to keep your body temperature low. If you don’t follow this advice, Dr. Nieman says some serious issues can arise. You could develop an irregular heartbeat, and exercising with muscles that are already compromised from a virus and cause much more damage and actually slow down the training process even more.

So remember, denizens, eat right (like with our amazing Gnarly Feast) get plenty of rest, and make sure you’re exercising isn’t going to make you sick. Personally, I’ve used the “neck rule” for 17 years now and I’m feeling pretty damn good. I’ve also found one more thing that works, patience. If your body needs to be sick, by all means, give it the time it needs to kick whatever you’ve got. You’ll be happier in the long run and you don’t gamble with making yourself sicker. Have a great New Year!

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