When it comes to reaping the benefits of exercise, consistency is key. But sometimes even the best-laid plans can go awry when life—sickness, stress, PMS—gets in the way. Because it can be tough to figure out when you should or shouldn’t hit the gym, we consulted the experts to get their take on a variety of tricky situations. Read on to find out when it’s OK (and even advisable) to break a sweat, and when it’s better to wait it out.
If you have a hangover:
Had a few too many glasses of wine last night? Now is the time to take it easy. According to Rick Mayo, owner of North Point Personal Training in Roswell, Georgia, “A light workout can help clear your head. However, your electrolytes are typically pretty out of balance after a night of drinking, and a sweaty workout can make it worse.” It’s also important to consider how bad your hangover is: If you’re absolutely miserable, just make it a rest day. Otherwise, go for a walk or try another form of low-key cardio and skip the vigorous spin class this time—just remember to replenish your fluids before you head out to avoid serious injuries that can occur as a result of dehydration.
If you’re sore from your last workout:
If you’re new to exercise or pushed yourself extra-hard last time you hit the weights, you can expect some soreness due to delayed-onset muscle soreness. Mayo’s advice: “If the soreness is simply muscular and not joint-related, a little hair of the dog is a good thing, as long as you ease up on the intensity.” Kate F. Hays, PhD, a Toronto-based clinical and sport psychologist, suggests using times like these as an opportunity to work in a different type of exercise. So if you’re sore from weightlifting, try some light cardio or yoga. If running was the culprit, give cycling or the elliptical trainer a go.
If you’re under the weather:
Both experts agree that light exercise can help ease congestion from a cold, but if you have a cough or fever, it’s best to sit it out until the illness passes. Dr. Hays emphasizes the importance of knowing your body––one person may feel better after exercising when sick, while someone else may feel worse. Whichever you choose, says Mayo, “do us all a favor and don’t come to the gym—we don’t want your germs!” If you’re taking medication, Dr. Hays and Mayo both stress the importance of checking with your doctor about any precautions to take while exercising. Physical activity can ease the side effects of certain drugs, but it can also worsen others, and, according to Mayo, some antibiotics can increase the risk of injury.
If you just ate:
You know that it’s not ideal to exercise while you’re completely full, but what if you’ve just eaten and find yourself with an unexpected chance to get some exercise? A low-intensity workout is fine on a full stomach, says Mayo, but if you try something more strenuous than walking or easy cycling, he cautions, “you’ll want to have an empty stomach––if not, it may empty itself!” To avoid exercising yourself sick, stick to a low-key sweat session.
If it’s that time of month:
Generally, exercise can ease period-related symptoms, and a study that appeared last year in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that exercise performance wasn’t affected during any of the phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, Mayo explains that a heavy cycle can result in low iron levels, which may increase fatigue, so be sure to adjust the intensity of your session based on your energy level. Otherwise, he adds, “A good, hard workout can also offset the negative emotions associated with your cycle.”
If you’re pregnant:
According to Mayo, if you’ve already been exercising consistently before you got pregnant, then by all means carry on. “If not, you can begin walking and doing light body weight movements.” But he warns that this is not the time to ramp up your intensity. He also advises that once you reach the third trimester you avoid doing any exercises while lying flat on your back. “The increased weight of your uterus in that position presses on the major vein that returns blood from your legs to your heart,” he explains. “Other than that, just listen to your body and use common sense.” Dr. Hays recommends consulting with your healthcare provider just to be safe—this is especially important if you have health issues or pregnancy-related problems like preeclampsia.
If you have a minor injury:
“If your injury hurts only during certain activities, refrain from doing them while maintaining other forms of exercise,” instructs Mayo. This might be a good time to mix things up by trying new forms of activity. However, he says, “If ice, anti-inflammatories and rest don’t help, see your doctor. You don’t want a minor injury to turn into something chronic.” Focus on the big picture: It’s better to take a couple of days or weeks off than to worsen an injury, which could sideline you for much longer.
If you’re stressed about a big test or presentation the next day:
The consensus on this is a resounding yes! Mayo points out that “a good workout will help you relax mentally, which is precisely what will help you perform your best the next day.” In fact, a Harvard University study published in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback found yoga was associated with decreased levels of performance anxiety. However, Dr. Hays notes that it may take some experimenting to figure out the most effective stress buster for you personally, whether it’s calming yoga or high-intensity cardio.
By Tori Rodriguez
Originally published on WomansDay.com