For many, including this author, working out is an addiction. We plan our days around hitting the gym. The priority list usually looks like: Go to the gym, eat, sleep, everything else. When we are sick, the priorities should shift and getting better should take the top spot, however anyone with an addiction can tell you, that shift is often a hard sell no matter how much we tell ourselves it’s for our own good.

There are some myths to dispel when we talk about exercise and illness. We’ve all heard the “sweat it out” theory. This way of thinking leads us to maintain our level of intense workout thus sweating out all the bad toxins and virus’s that are causing us to be sick. The endorphins we release through moderate exercise are beneficial, however extremely intense exercise can cause high levels of endorphins that actually hinder immune system function. So sweating it out usually makes us less able to fight off infections rather than helping the situation.

The general guidelines for working out when you are sick go something like this:

You can work out if you have a head cold. Anything above the neck including a sore throat, runny nose and head congestion are typically not so serious that you must skip your workouts altogether. You might consider backing down on the intensity until you are through the worst of your cold but a nice brisk walk or 40 minutes on the elliptical at a slower pace will likely do you some good.

If you have a fever, or if you are experiencing lightheadedness, aches and pains or a chesty cough, skip the workout. Your body needs all the energy it can produce to fight off the illness you have. By maintaining an intense workout schedule, the body uses its resources to heal torn muscle fibers and fight post workout fatigue instead, usually prolonging illness. Working out while you are ill can damage the heart, causing it to weaken. This condition is known as cardiomyopathy and can be very serious and even fatal.

It is also important to remember, despite the bodybuilders’ general narcissistic attitude, that there are other people to consider. If you get your pump on in a private setting, that’s one thing. However those of us forced to work out in a public gym must remain cognizant that others do actually exist. If you are ill and cannot possibly miss your workout, make sure you wipe down the machines you use and wash your hands often to avoid contaminating everyone else in the facility.

The most important thing to remember is to be smart. You aren’t going to atrophy to the point of 90 pound weakling if you get sick and have to take a week off from training. You are likely to miss more workouts by not giving your body ample time to heal from illness. Taking care of your body is not just about packing on the big muscle, it’s about listening to it when it is trying to tell you to take a break.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Riggs
Fitness and Nutrition Expert
Industry Expert
Fitness Coach and Personal Trainer

Jim Riggs is an authority in the fitness, nutrition and supplement industries. With more than twenty years of experience training everyone from soccer moms, to NFL Athletes, to Olympic gold medalists he has seen it all. Jim has a unique understanding, style and passion toward everything fitness. As a contributing writer for Jim brings this uniqueness to the supplement world through no nonsense product review and hard hitting commentary.