Exercising While Sick - When is it OK?


Getting sick. It is one of those inevitable experiences in life. Some people get sick only a few times in their lives, while I, on the other hand, seem to get sick at the turn of every season. Well, guess what? ’Tis the season. As the winter tries to melt into spring, I have found myself feeling a little under-the-weather, proving to me that even my best defenses (washing my hands, eating well, getting adequate sleep, exercising, and keeping stress to a minimum) sometimes just aren’t enough. 

Aside from causing a back-log of schoolwork, chores or other day-to-day responsibilities, being sick can throw a wrench in your exercise routine. This can make it hard to get your momentum back when you once again begin to feel better. The fear of "loss of momentum" can make a lot of people want to push through their illness and continue exercising instead of resting - this is especially true if you participate in competitive sports. 

So, is exercising while sick really that bad? How do you know when and if you should step away? Well, I’ve done a little research and have a few answers to those questions. Before you drag your sick-self out of bed and onto the treadmill, it is important to determine whether you will be helping or hurting yourself. It is best to do a quick survey of your symptoms: body ache, runny nose, cough, headache, etc. 

If you notice that all of your symptoms are “above-the-neck,” like they usually are with the common cold, then chances are you are OK to exercise

In fact, a good cardiovascular workout may help clear your sinuses, relieve sinus pressure, and give you a burst of energy (just make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated). It is important to note, however, that if you have a severe sore throat, skip your routine until your symptoms subside.

I would also suggest modifying your exercise routine to accommodate being sick. When you are ill, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to reach the peak performance levels you are used to, so it’s best not to push it. If you typically run three miles, try jogging one instead. If you exercise for an hour, cut it down to 30 minutes. It is important to remember that you are sick and your body is working hard to fight those pesky germs. If you overdo it in a workout you risk prolonging your illness or making symptoms worse – and nobody wants that. Most importantly, remember to listen to your body. I cannot stress this enough. If you notice you are getting dizzy, feeling nauseous, or are having a hard time catching your breath, STOP IMMEDIATELY.

Something else to consider is whether or not you are contagious. If you have an aggressively runny nose or are constantly sneezing, you may want to consider exercising at home rather than going out into public. You don’t want to put other people at risk from being exposed to your germs. OK, so when is it NOT a good idea exercise when you’re sick?

If all of your symptoms are "below-the-neck," as is typically seen with the flu, skip the workout

Chest congestion, a cough, muscle aches, nausea, and fever are all signs you need to stay in bed. Attempting to exercise if you have these symptoms can not only make them worse, it could endanger your health, especially if you have severe chest congestion or a fever. 

Putting stress on lungs that are filled with fluid will make it difficult for you to breathe and could lead to bronchial spasms and fainting. Another important note is that exercise raises your body temperature this is very dangerous if you already have a fever. If pushed too high, a fever can lead to coma or death. So, if you have a fever, it is best to stay in bed, drink plenty of fluids, and get some rest.

Regular exercise is a great way to stay healthy and can even help you fight off a cold. But if you do get sick, remember to take into account what kind of ‘sick’ you are before deciding whether or not to head to the gym. If need be, missing a few days of exercise for rest will benefit you more in the long run and will allow you to get back to your normal routine sooner rather than later. If you do decide to exercise, make sure to take it easy on yourself with a modified routine, and make sure you are eating enough calories and drinking plenty of water.


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amy sutherland - founder

Hey all! My name is Amy Sutherland (she/her), and I have been passionate about sexual health since before I hit puberty. I've spent most of my adult life working as a writer focusing on health and wellness. More particularly, women’s reproductive health. 

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