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Does exercise help or hinder an illness?

Bookmark and Share It's that time of year; despite all your hand washing, you've caught a cold. You're fatigued, congested, and worried that your illness will roadblock your fitness goals. Is it better to let your body rest or will exercise get you off the sick list?

"For most mild colds, it's safe to continue your workout routine," says Jacqueline Ewing, DO, family physician. "What's most important is that you listen to your body. The more you are in tune with your body, the easier it is to determine if exercise or rest is the right option for your health."

When exercise is better
If you experience mild symptoms of a cold or illness, exercise may bring you some relief.

"Exercise triggers the body to release endorphins, the chemicals in the brain associated with pain relief," says Ewing. "Depending on your ailment, these endorphins could relieve some pain, even while exercising at a lower intensity."

But depending on the severity and duration of your illness, you may be best served resting your body. So what symptoms are red flags to take cover under the sheets? Check out the following:

  • Upper respiratory infection/cold
    You've got a sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, cough, watery eyes, fever, congestion, headache or ear pressure.

      Red Flags: If the symptoms affect your breathing rate at rest, either through wheezing or tightness in the chest, sit this one out and see your physician. Also if the symptoms are severe and last longer than a few days, see your doctor.

  • Menstrual Cramps
    You've got cramping, lower abdominal pain and/or back pain with menses.

      Red Flags: When pain is intense, lie in bed with a heating pad. If increasing or regularly severe, call your gynecologist or your family doctor.

  • Stomach bugs
    You've got diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, chills or abdominal pain.

      Red Flags: Diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration, which needs to be taken seriously. It's important to rest and take small sips of liquids. You're body needs to be well hydrated to fight off infection. If symptoms are severe or last more than a couple days, call your doctor.

  • Flu You've got body aches, fatigue, high fever, headache, chills or cold symptoms.

      Red Flags: Unless you have a really mild case of the flu, it's best to wait this one out and rest. Fever is your body's way to fight off infection. Rest and allow it to come down before exposing others or doing regular activities.

"If you choose to rest through an illness, be sure to only take a few days off. Don't let one illness set you off track completely," says Ewing. "Gradually transition back into your regular routine once symptoms subside. Exercise can help keep your immune system strong to fend off future illnesses."