The question of working out versus resting up has always been a source of confusion for me. Should I stay home? Am I lazy? Am I overdoing it? So, I’ve checked some of the guidelines for fitness and present their suggestions here. But first, let’s talk about how being sick can affect your productivity.

Recently researchers have been warning us against the practice of “presenteeism” – coming to work even though you don’t feel well. In a Harvard Business Review article written by Hemp (2004), coming to work sick so you don’t fall behind can backfire on you. I was heartened to see that depression and migraines made the list of illness that people tend to power through instead of taking a break to heal.

The costs to productivity are high. People are, of course, less productive when they are sick. They might be more cranky and more difficult to get along with. Constant pain may be exacerbated by work requirements (e.g., carpal tunnel).

Those of us with chronic illness are most prone to presenteeism, and that makes perfect common sense. Not every supervisor is kind to those with chronic illness. It costs less to have someone come to work than stay home. If we stepped out of life every time we didn’t feel well, you wouldn’t see us.

So for most of us, knowing when to rest can be difficult. If the issue is depression or anxiety, then working out most definitely will make you feel better. But what if it is sore muscles, a cold or flu, etc…?

According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have just a headcold, go ahead and work out (but please wash your hands and wipe down the equipment). If your symptoms are “below the neck,” like coughing, joint aches, and fever, take a day off and let your body recover. Either way, take it easy. You aren’t going to make a personal record.

What about the soreness that comes from a new workout? That stuff hurts. How do I know if I’m just sore or if I injured myself? The distinction between soreness and injury can be a subtle one, especially for newer exercisers. The American Physical Therapy Association has a handy table in the article I’ve linked. To sum it up, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a normal reaction to exercise. Your muscles might be really sore for 24-72 hours after you worked out. If it’s just the muscles that hurt and stretching and movement help, then it’s probably DOMS. Keep moving at least a little bit. Anything else is probably an injury and best addressed by a physician.

So, anyway, there is no harm in taking a day off when you are sick or injured. Your body and your productivity will thank you.

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