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March 01, 2019

It's OK to work out while sick with a cold — if you pass the neck check

Some symptoms won't prevent you from exercise; others call for a time-out

Fitness Colds
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When you’re feeling under the weather, opting out of a planned workout is the obvious choice. Resting and not exerting sounds like a much better option and you don’t want to spread your germs, after all.

But is this just a lame excuse for sitting one out if you’re dealing with a simple cold? Ultimately, it's a little unclear whether it's advisable to work out or wait a few days.

Turns out, experts say, there’s a simple way to see if your symptoms qualify as a rightful cause to miss a workout. It's called the neck rule.

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“If all of your symptoms are above the neck, you’re safe to work out,” Dr. Jessalyn Adam, attending sports medicine physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells Women’s Health. “But if you have symptoms that are below the neck, then you probably shouldn’t work out.”

Symptoms that may not keep you from your exercise regime include runny nose, nasal congestion and sore throat. On the other hand, muscle aches, chest congestion, shortness of breath and cough are signs that you'll probably want to sideline yourself, Women’s Health explains. These symptoms point toward a more serious illness.

If you have a flu, as opposed to a simple cold, stay far, far away from the gym. According to Well and Goodsweating out the virus at the gym is a terrbile idea. According to Dr. Mariane Fahlman, a professor of health education at Wayne State University, the immune system is already working a double shift to fight off the flu or other infections. Exercise, as a form of physical stress, is just another burden to the system. 

Furthermore, past studies have shown that exercising while flu-ridden actually can lead to chronic fatigue symptoms that could last for years.

The Mayo Clinic agrees that mild-to-moderate physical activity is okay if you have a common cold and no fever, and may even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and relieving nasal congestion. 

But if you do decide to push through your sniffles, remember to think of your fellow gym-goers, too: wash your hands, wipe down your equipment after use, and cough or sneeze into your shoulder rather than your hand to reduce the risk of spreading your germs to others.

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