How to Start Exercising Again After Being Sick

If your sniffles subside and you're itching to hit the gym again, ease back into your routine with this post-sickness game plan.

a model wearing a sports bra and shorts stretching pre-or post-outdoor run
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A cold, flu, or virus can throw a serious wrench in your exercise routine, leaving you bedridden and (eventually) craving a good sweat. But how do you get back on the bandwagon after you kick your illness? How big of a setback did you really take? And how much exercise is too much when you're first getting back at it?

Things might not be as bad as you think: If you're flat on your back for a week (assuming you stick to a regular gym routine when you're healthy) you'll lose about 30 percent of your fitness, especially your cardio output, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. While this is a bummer, with two to three weeks of training — using the right bounce-back strategy — you should get close to reaching your normal physical fitness again, she says. Here's what to know.

Your Post-Sickness Workout Plan

How can you tell if you're okay to hit the pavement? First and foremost, make sure you haven't had a fever for at least 48 hours, says Olson. You should also have a few good nights' sleep under your belt, and no longer have any aches and pains, she adds.

"If you're running a fever, you should not work out," notes Olson. Why? "The energy needed by your immune system to fight off bacterial infections will be compromised if you exercise," she explains. And this means you'll invite lingering symptoms to worsen — which could predispose you to more intense issues such as mononucleosis (aka mono) or pneumonia, adds Olson. Not fun.

If you truly think you're in the clear, it's important to ease back into your regular routine instead of trying to pick up where you left off. "When you've had an infection, the increased work of your immune system is taxing on the body," says Olson. Overwhelm an already overworked body and you'll wind up right back in the sack.

As for where to start, go for light cardio first and then resistance training, suggests Olson. "It's important to make sure your oxygen delivery system is intact so that when you do resistance training, your muscles will get the oxygen," she says. But if you're a yogi (and your body is familiar with the practice), you should be okay returning to the studio with a light class, since the exercise is less demanding and often moves at a moderate cardio pace, she adds.

The Bottom Line

Don't naively assume you can go back to 100 percent right away. "Do about 70 percent of what you were doing," suggests Olson. Reducing your weights and cardio output by 30 percent for a few days will make up for the loss in fitness while you were sick. So build back slowly, even if you're tempted to push harder. Don't worry — eventually, two miles won't feel like 10 anymore.

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