Runners are a rare breed where we hate to take a day off. There can be a blizzard with 60 mph winds with sleet, and you still find a runner wanting to get out there for a run.
Dedication to the sport is admirable, but when is it okay to run when you are sick, and when should precautions be taken? While exercise can give you a mental and physical boost when you’re feeling run-down, there are other occasions when going for a run may do more harm than good.
The smartest runners are the ones who know when to push but also know when they need some down time and need to offer their body some TLC.
When is it Okay to Run When Sick, and When Should a Rest Day be Taken?
Runners are often told of the “neck rule” – that if you are sick, you can still run as long as the symptoms are from the neck up. With this “rule” in mind, it is ok to run if you have a head cold or an ear ache or sore throat.
But if the symptoms are below your neck, such as a cough, fever or body aches, you should wait on that run and plan to do it another day. Take extra caution when training with anything worse than a minor head cold as it can escalate into a more serious condition.
Here is some additional information for you to help you decide if running with your symptoms is good for your body or if you should hold off a couple of days before you lace up those running shoes.
• Runners with a fever or the flu should always take time off until the symptoms disappear. A fever is your body’s way of fighting off an illness and if you put your body through additional stressors, it will add to the time it takes for you to recover. In addition, running will cause your core body temperature to rise and can be dangerous if your temperature is already elevated as it will cause your heart to have to work harder. Your body needs to use all its energy to identify and fight off the illness and your priority is to recover and become healthy again. Once your symptoms are resolved you should start off with a short, easy run to ease back into activity.
• Remember to drink plenty of fluids while on your run as your body will need the extra hydration. The extra fluids will help to flush the germs out and will help prevent dehydration, which is common after a virus.
• Be careful when running while taking any cold medication. As the ingredients in most medications can increase your heart rate, it is wise to not take cold medicine before a run. In addition, cold medicine will only hide your symptoms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the illness is gone.
• If you feel a little dizzy or light-headed, avoid running until all symptoms subside. Your body is telling you that movement is bad, so listen to it.
• If your doctor has advised you against running while you’re sick then please take the advice. If they medically released you to run, then give it a try. But if you feel worse when you run, then stop.
• Remember to use common sense and let your body tell you when you are fine to run and when you are not.
One other piece of advice to maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent catching all those viruses and germs going around your house, office, etc. Having a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and unprocessed foods will help your body run like a well-oiled machine.
If you don’t have a well-balanced diet, add in a multi-vitamin and make sure that you are getting in enough Vitamin D. Getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours) will also do wonders for keeping your immune system in tip top shape!
Stay healthy… and Happy Running!