Exercising with respiratory infections: Listen to your body
Harvard Health Letters
Q. I do my best to exercise every day, either walking two miles in good weather or riding my exercise bike for 30 minutes on wet or cold days. Should I keep going when I catch a cold, or would I be better off resting?
A. Congratulations on your fine exercise program. Since you are working out at a moderate level, it’s important for you to exercise nearly every day – but it’s also important to obey the first commandment of exercise: Listen to your body.
If you have a typical cold, with sneezing, a runny nose, and a dry cough, it’s perfectly safe for you to continue exercising. But if your symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, it’s probably wise to back off. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t feel up to your walk, take time off until the spring is back in your legs. Put another way, if your symptoms are all above your neck, there’s no reason to alter your routine, but if the rest of your body sends out distress signals, back off. Even then, you may want to do some gentle stretching exercises to stay limber.
Speaking of stretching, you should consider stretching out your admirable regimen of walking and biking with exercises for flexibility and strength. And to minimize your chances of catching a bug that will lay you up, remember to get a flu shot each fall and a pneumonia shot at age 65. Similarly, don’t forget hand washing and other hygienic measures – they may sound simple, but they’re nothing to sneeze at.
Harvey B. Simon, M.D., Editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch
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