By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – Maybe you’re a regular exerciser. Maybe you’re someone who is trying to keep a New Year’s resolution to get into shape and drop a few pounds. Either one, good for you!

But what do you do when you get walloped with the flu or one of the other nasty bugs making the rounds? And when is it okay to return to your workout routine?

It’s a tough call and obviously one answer doesn’t fit all.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Yet it’s a question we hear over and over again as people try to get back their sea legs after being ill.

The obvious answer for all is that a return that is too quick will simply set you back another week or two, if not more. In fact, we see it all the time. A person gets to feeling better, and then heads back to working out, and then BOOM … down they go again.

You need to listen to your body, which will wisely tell you to start out slow and work your way back to your regular routine gradually.

Your first set of workouts should be easily half the length and half the intensity — if not less — than what you are used to.

And the decision to have that first workout can be based on what we call the “rule of the neck.”

That means that symptoms above the neck such as a runny or stuffy nose, or a mildly scratchy throat usually is something that doesn’t automatically cancel a light trip to the gym. Maybe not for a heavy workout, but you may be able to squeeze in a light one.

But below the neck is a different story.

Cough.    Nausea.    Fever.    Chills.  Aches.

All are red flags signaling the body needs time to recover.

Pushing it and trying sweat the infection out it will simply knock you down, as well as set you up for another illness since your immune system is suppressed.

So some thoughts: If you’re not feeling too poorly, and your symptoms are neck up, perhaps a light session of stretching or a walk is okay
— just enough to get the engine lubricated. But not exhausting. (And please allow for some extra recovery time.)

Then gradually work your way back to a full steam routine.

And that may take a good week or two. So patience needs to be part of your exercise regimen.

You don’t want to be one of those folks who come in complaining “Why do I just get one infection after another?”

Your body is smarter than you. Please listen to it.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida