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Nancy Solomon
Phone: 314.977.8017

June 8, 2004

Take Time to Be Sick; Hold Off on Working Out

ST. LOUIS -- Your nose is runny, your throat is sore and you don't feel terrific. Should you follow your normal workout routine or give your body a break?

Put the workout on ice, says Michael Cannon, M.D., a SLUCare Des Peres family physician who specializes in sports medicine.

"Think of a bout of exercise as another stress on the body, such as working longer hours, not getting enough sleep or not eating correctly," says Dr. Cannon, assistant professor of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

"We know that exercising when you have an infection can complicate your recovery. In contrast, there is no proven health gain by exercising while you are ill."

Why You Should Hold Off

When you exercise during an illness, you are more likely to become dehydrated. Fevers burn up body fluids and you lose extra water and fluids from your skin, lungs and digestive tract if it is infected with intestinal germs. You lose even more body fluids during a workout when you perspire.

At the same time you are losing body fluids because you are sick and exercising, your thirst reflex goes on the blink, so you forget to drink.

"Exercising when you're low on fluids can lead not only to more significant dehydration, but to heat stroke and, for those at risk, heart problems as well," Dr. Cannon says. "So drink lots of fluids if you choose to exercise when you are a bit under the weather. It's essential for a smooth recovery."

Beyond problems with dehydration, exercise can significantly worsen certain conditions such as cold in an asthmatic or any infection in a diabetic, he adds.

Rule of Thumb

So if you are exercising for general health and well being, wait until you're over your bug before you return to the gym. "This is a long-term project," Dr. Cannon says. "There is no rush."

The medical jury's out on whether you should workout if you're feeling just a little under the weather, so let your gut be your guide. "It's not scientifically clear," Dr. Cannon says. "So my recommendation to a patient would be to do what they feel they are capable of doing."

By all means, you should stay away from training if you are running a fever of more than 100 degrees to minimize potential complications, which could include injuries that may lead to you sitting out longer.

If you are exercising for competition or are so hooked on your exercise routine that sitting out would make you stir crazy, take it slowly. "Start at 50 to 75 percent of the intensity or duration of your normal regimen," Dr. Cannon says. "Slowly build back to your pre-illness level of training."

For more information about the services offered by SLUCare, the physician practice of Saint Louis University School of Medicine, visit the World Wide Web at or phone the SLUCare Call Center at 314.977.4440.


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