When Not to Exercise

Exercise does the body good, but it’s not always a good idea. Some aches and pains can make working out a definite no-no. Knowing when to work out or when to wait it out can be perplexing.

“The key is to be able to listen to your body and the cues it is giving you and decide if exercise is right at that time,” says Katie Rothstein, MS, a Cleveland Clinic exercise physiologist.

Should you just do it, or call in sick to the gym? Here’s some expert advice.

You’ve Got a Fever

Stay home and rest. A fever shows that the body’s immune system is battling an infection — and doesn’t need to deal with stress from exercise on top of that, explains Stephen Rice, MD, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the director of the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J. If you exercise anyway, be alert for overheating and  dehydration, since body fluids decrease when you have a fever. You probably also won’t get a great workout, since a fever boosts your resting  heart rate, which leads to a less effective workout.

You’ve Got a Cold

A cold can make you miserable, but it doesn’t rule out exercise. Experts say moderate-intensity workouts are OK when you have a common cold. If you go to a gym when you have a cold, use hand sanitizer and wipe off any surfaces you touch so you don’t contaminate your gym buddies. The bottom line: It’s understandable if you choose to take it easy, but exercising with a cold doesn’t seem to make you sicker.

You’ve Got the Flu

Head to your sofa, not the gym. Skip your workout until you recover. With the flu comes a fever, so heed the rule not to exercise when you have a fever.

You Had a Recent Asthma Flare-up

If the flare-up was due to a respiratory infection, skip your workout for a few days and see a doctor if symptoms persist. Otherwise, if your doctor has said exercise is safe for you, and your asthma is well-controlled, it may be appropriate to work out. Be sure to start slowly and warm up for 10 minutes. Low-to-moderate intensity, intermittent exercise, or indoor  swimming may be better choices if you have exercise-induced asthma. During your workout, stop exercising if you can’t catch your breath or feel tired and weak. Always have a treatment plan in place. That may mean taking your  inhaler to the gym or even using it prior to exercise.

You Recently Had a Concussion

Do not exercise or participate in any sport until your doctor says it is safe to do so — even if you feel OK. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, and your brain needs to heal properly. “If another  head injury occurs due to exercise before the [concussion] has healed, the brain is put at an increased risk of swelling and potential catastrophic damage,” Rice says.

Your Old Sports Injury Is Bothering You

Skip the workout and see your doctor. This is usually not a good sign, especially if you have pain during activity, Rice says. Sudden pain requires immediate medical attention.

You Didn’t Sleep Last Night and Now You’re Too Tired to Exercise

Get out of bed and get moving. “A morning workout may be just what you need after a restless night to boost your energy level and get you ready for the day,” Rothstein says. But if you’re always fatigued — not just a bit tired, but to the point of not being able to function — skip the workout and see your doctor. Extreme or persistent fatigue can be a sign of illness.

You Felt a Sharp Pain the Last Time You Worked Out

Do not work out until you see a doctor to rule out an injury. If you exercise anyway, you may make the injury worse. “Although it is expected to feel soreness after you work out, it is never OK to feel pain,” Rice says.


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