Q: With the stress and sleeplessness that comes with owning my own business, illness sometimes strikes. Should I try to exercise when I'm sick or just take it easy 'til I feel better?

A: I certainly know what it's like to be ill, get four hours of sleep, run a business and take care of the family all day, then be faced with the big decision: Do I go to the gym?

When a cold, flu or minor injury strikes, how does your exercise program fit in? When is it safe to begin working out again? Will a two- or three-week hiatus be a major setback on your path to fitness?

As a general rule of thumb, use the "above the neck check" to decide if you should be exercising during an illness. If your symptoms are mainly above the neck (runny nose, sore throat), exercising at a slow pace is probably safe and can release endorphins that can make you feel better and give you more energy. Symptoms below the neck, such as fever, chills, muscle ache, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting or diarrhea, often indicate more severe illness. With these symptoms, you should avoid vigorous physical activity.

Colds and flus can impair the lungs, heart, muscular and immune systems. Temperature regulation, fluid loss and dehydration are hidden dangers that must be considered while exercising when you're under the weather. If you feel strong enough to continue your exercise program, be sure to drink extra water and frequently monitor your heart rate. If you feel exceptionally hot, stop and rest.

Muscle strains, broken bones and fractures should be handled carefully. If your doctor gives the OK, find a sport or exercise that won't put stress on your recovering injury. Cross training is especially effective in keeping up your fitness level. If you normally row but you have a shoulder injury, for example, you can keep fit on a stationary bicycle.

Discontinuing your exercise program for a week or two shouldn't significantly set back your progress toward a fitness goal, so don't worry about it. When your symptoms subside and you feel stronger, ease back into your exercise program. Start with a slower pace and shorter duration. Light outdoor exercise such as walking can give you some fresh air and improve your circulation after days of staying in bed. Listen to your body, and you'll be back to your busy entrepreneurial routine in no time.


LearnMore
Not enough hours in the day to get in shape? Read "Power Workout" for tips on how to include a fitness routine into your schedule


Shannon Entin is the publisher and editor of FitnessLink (www.fitnesslink.com) and co-author ofThe Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Health and Fitness(Macmillan). An ACE-certified (American Council on Exercise) fitness instructor, Shannon thrives on inspiring people to live healthier lifestyles.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.