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Should you exercise while you're sick?

It's official - flu season is here. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that the flu season is off to its earliest start since 2003-2004. Additionally, high levels of the virus have already been reported in several areas of the country including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

While individuals can reduce their risk of getting the flu by getting a flu shot and regularly washing their hands, the virus isn't the only illness that might affect them this winter. Colds, stomach bugs and other illnesses are all more common this time of year.

Experts say that regular exercise is also a good way of staying healthy. But many people wonder if they can continue to work out when they're feeling under the weather. Or should they give their bodies and their used exercise equipment some time off to recover?

According to the Austin Post-Bulletin, recent research from the Academy of Sports Medicine indicates that there is no reason to stop working out when you have a cold. Exercising may even help you recover quicker. However, remember that if you're not feeling well, you may not have your usual stamina or strength.

On the other hand, exercising is not a good idea if you have the flu, a stomach bug or a fever.

"These illnesses put an extra demand on every system in your body," YMCA fitness director Kristi Stasi told the newspaper. "Continuing to work out with these symptoms will probably prolong the illness."

Stasi says a good rule of thumb to decide whether exercising is safe is to determine whether your symptoms are above or below the neck. Anything above the neck, like a cold, sore throat or runny nose shouldn't be negatively impacted by a little physical activity. Those who have illnesses with below-the-neck symptoms like stomach pains, body aches and breathing problems should take some time off to rest. The same holds true with a fever.

"If your body temperature is already too high, the last thing you want to do is fire up your metabolism with exercise," explained fitness expert Kathy Hansen on

No matter what your symptoms are, experts say it's important to listen to your body. If you feel achy or weak, give yourself some time to heal before getting back onto your used treadmill, exercise bike or other equipment.

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