How to (Mindfully) Exercise When You're Sick



For those of us on a consistent fitness schedule, skipping the gym can throw our minds all out of whack. Exercise becomes therapeutic for our bodies, sure, but for our brain as well. Nothing helps lift anxiety or stress like a good workout.

Now, that being said, it's hard to keep up the momentum when you're sick. But, we wondered, is there some truth to being able to "sweat it out" and dispel the toxins and feverish feelings from your body after an exercise class? Or is staying in bed the healthiest option? We reached out to two fitness experts for their advice on the matter. Either way, invest in some ginger shots and B12 supplements (with your doctor's signoff) to stave off flu season.

On whether you should work out while sick…

"If you can barely get out of bed, don't work out," asserts celebrity trainer Lacey Stone. "But sometimes, when you 'sweat it out,' you can actually finish a workout feeling much better. If you work out and you start feeling weak and worse, I suggest you leave early and rest. It's also important to tell your instructor before you begin so that they can keep an eye on you."

Tatiana Boncompagni, an Athleta ambassador and Sculptologie, instructor adds, "If you aren't running a fever or feeling nauseous, but rather, stuffy and congested (like you feel a cold coming on), it can actually be beneficial to exercise or engage in a mindfulness practice. Meditation lowers your cortisol levels and moderate and low-intensity exercise can open up your nasal passageways and help you reduce stress.

"That being said," Boncompagni notes, "training at a max effort level is not a great idea when you are sick. You need to be able to recover properly to reap the rewards of that kind of workout. If your body is already fighting infection, there's no way it can do that. Plus, heavy weight lifting or high-intensity intervals both take a greater toll on your central nervous system. Save those workouts for when you feel better."

On which workouts to try (and which to avoid)…

"Hot yoga and cycling are best because you can really sweat out the toxins (and you will know within the first 10 minutes if you're starting to feel better or worse)," suggests Stone. "Cycling doesn't involve anything high impact, so it won't be jarring to your body. Yoga will help ease your mind and distract you from any ailments. I wouldn’t do HIIT interval classes like boot camp, boxing, or running. These exercises involve a lot of pounding and focus. When you're sick, you have less energy, which makes it difficult to perform at the level of intensity these workouts require. You may also start to feel lightheaded."

Boncompagni continues, "This isn't a time to push it. Focus on doing something that makes you feel good. Moderate cardio (such as walking or jogging on the treadmill) or taking a restorative yoga class are both great choices. For me personally, a light 30-minute jog on the treadmill followed by a hot Epsom salt bath is my go-to remedy for a cold. I really believe it speeds my recovery."

On the important precautions to take…

"Listen to your gut," recommends Stone. "If you start to feel lightheaded, stop immediately. Be sure to warm up before you get into your workout and wear two layers of clothing. It's good to work out with a hoodie when you're sick so you can increase your sweat and stay warm throughout the workout."

"Take it easy and be gentle on yourself," Boncompagni adds. "The goal is to feel better, not improve your performance. There are plenty of days in the year when you can push hard. Today's not one of them. As important as it is to physically back off on sick days, make sure you do the same with your thoughts. No negative self-talk. And, of course, stay extra hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Hydration is important for workout performance any day but especially vital when you are sick."

And how to best take care of yourself…

"Get plenty of rest, even if getting actual sleep is hard because you are congested," says Boncompagni. "I'm a big fan of homemade chicken soup, grapefruit (for a vitamin C boost), and probiotic-rich kombucha. Recovery days (and weeks) are an integral part of any athlete's training plan. You just might find your performance jumps up a level after you give your body a chance to rest and recover. So, try to embrace it. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you and think about ways you can incorporate more stress-relief, rest, and recovery into your life on an ongoing basis."