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Calling in sick: to exercise or not to exercise when illness strikes.

When you're not feeling well, it's difficult to predict whether exercising will make you feel better or worse. Most people are reluctant to stop exercising when they're sick because it can be difficult to resume their regimen. However, there are times when exercising during an illness can be potentially dangerous.

You should never exercise when you have a temperature of 99.5 [degrees] F or above. Working out when you have a fever can cause your body temperature to rise even higher, potentially leading to heatstroke, according to sports-medicine specialist Lewis G. Maharam, M.D., author of The Exercise High: How to Get It, How to Keep It (Ballantine Fawcett, $10).

A fever is an indication of your body fighting a virus. Exercise may cause a virus to invade the heart muscle or pericardium, the sac around the heart. When your body temperature is above normal, fluids are diminished by 5 to 10%, thus increasing the risk of dehydration and subsequent complications connected to the original illness. Therefore, always drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Also, do not attempt to cut back on food when you have a fever and can't exercise. The presence of a fever requires more calories, not less.

If you have a cold but no fever, exercising is fine. New research shows you can put as much effort into a workout when you have a cold as when you are healthy. At Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, 45 students were infected with the rhinovirus that causes most colds. After developing cold symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat and/or cough, they ran on a treadmill for up to 15 minutes, as did 10 healthy students. Researchers found the lung capacity of the infected students was the same as that of the students who were not ill. In fact, the sick students reported that exercising didn't feel any more strenuous than usual.

However, don't count on exercise to expedite your recovery. "You can't `sweat out' a cold," says lead study author Thomas G. Weidner, Ph.D. "Whether you exercise or not, the duration of a cold is the same."

If you feel uncomfortable while exercising or if your muscles hurt, stop. Muscle aches can be a sign of a viral illness, which could increase your risk of exercise-related injury.

A sore throat could be just that, or it could be a sign of bacterial strep infection. Since vigorous exercise can reduce immunity, the strep infection could spread to a larger area of the throat and respiratory tract. In this case, moderate exercise is recommended.

If you have a persistent or hacking cough or if you're coughing up mucus, your breathing and lung capacity may be diminished. This indicates you may have an infection in your airways, and exercise should be avoided.

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea all result in dehydration. Body salts change when body fluids are reduced, setting off muscle cramps, spasms and, in severe cases, heart arrhythmia. Rehydrating the body can take several days, so avoid exercise until such symptoms have completely disappeared.

Illness increases body metabolism, which is reflected in the pulse rate. Gauge your readiness by taking your pulse first thing in the morning. Compare it with your normal resting heart rate. If it's 10 beats per minute above normal, avoid exercising for the day. An elevated pulse rate is a sign that your body is still fighting a bacterial or viral infection.

Once your resting pulse rate is normal and your symptoms have cleared, resume your regular workout at about half your normal pace. Periodically check your pulse as you're working out. Quit exercising if you feel nauseous, dizzy, experience blurred vision, have unexpected or sudden decrease in sweat output, or if you feel so weak and wobbly you can't maintain your form. It is important to listen to your body.

Never try a new activity or a harder or longer workout when you're not feeling well. If you're just resuming exercise after an illness, wait at least one week before starting a new activity or increasing intensity or duration of your workouts. Giving your body a chance to completely recover before starting anything new will reduce the likelihood of injury.

If you're exhausted after a post-illness workout, you may be exercising too hard. Be alert for a low level of energy, shortness of breath and muscle fatigue beyond what you normally experience.

There is an easy rule to follow when it comes to determining whether or not to exercise when you're sick. If your symptoms occur above the neck, such as watery eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose and scratchy throat, then moderate activity may not be detrimental. However, if your symptoms occur below the neck, as in coughing, fever, muscle aches or nausea, it is best to wait until the symptoms are completely gone before engaging in workout activity.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice.

Tammy Darling is a freelance writer residing in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
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Author:Darling, Tammy
Publication:American Fitness
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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