Should You Workout When You Are Sick?


It is true that the body feels great after exercise - a good "sweat session" is traced to boosting the immune system.  Ever wonder what you should do when your immune system is on overdrive because of a cold or flu?  Consider taking a break from the workout schedule or contemplating pushing through it?

If you have spent any time at a gym, you’ve seen that one person struggling to get through her workout. She’s sneezing, blowing her nose, and looking absolutely miserable while trying to get in a training session…in spite of a nasty cold. She may even be hoping the workout will help her get over it sooner, and you may be hoping she WIPES DOWN HER EQUIPMENT! (I would, or I would pick a different exercise)..

As it turns out, the old "sweat out the cold" technique isn’t recommended. There is no evidence that exercising can help get rid of a cold. There is evidence that light exercise does increase your serotonin levels, making you feel better temporarily.  All in all, exercise won’t magically cure the common cold, or any other infection for that matter.

Is it Ever Safe to Exercise When Sick?

I don't like it when my training routines are interrupted; I feel I am off track and it also affects my food intake.  When you’re in the middle of achieving a personal goal, and then illness strikes, how can you know when it’s safe to carry on and when you need to stay in bed?

 Should your client exercise while sick?

A good rule of thumb for making this decision is to look at the symptoms:

Safe to work out: The symptoms are mostly above the neck, or in other words, you have an upper respiratory infection, like the common cold. Stick with low to moderate training sessions for these kinds of symptoms.

Not safe to work out: There are significant symptoms below the neck, like body aches, lung pain when breathing, or coughing. These are signs of more serious illness, like the flu and mean you need to take a break.

Definitely not safe to work out: It’s important to take extra care if you have a chronic condition that affects breathing, like asthma. A condition like this combined with an infection can make working out really dangerous.

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Never exercise if you have a bad cough, fever, or symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. If you have a fever, you don't want to raise your temperature even more by exercising. That can be dangerous.

Also, out of consideration for other people at the gym, if you are contagious it’s a good idea to stay home.

If you are towards the end of your cold, and you feel like you can exercise again, you probably are no longer contagious, but be courteous and wipe down your equipment after using, just in case.

How hard can you work out?

If you do feel like it’s safe to work out in spite of an illness, make sure you take it down a notch. Overdoing a workout will only hamper your immune system and worsen or extend the duration of a cold.  If you are on a training plan where you physically push yourself hard, it would be a smart idea to take a break and choose a less intense workout. If you’re just itching to exercise, do something easy like yoga or walking. Avoid a workout that will cause you to breathe too heavily.

When you’re not sick, exercising can help maintain a healthy immune system. People who exercise and stay active are usually sick less often than people who live sedentary lives. For anyone who is healthy, a daily workout session can really boost the functioning of the immune system. So just because you’re sick doesn’t necessarily mean you need to sit it out. Depending on the symptoms, you may not have to take an unwanted rest day. By making the right choices and taking it easy when necessary, you can make it through the cold and flu season and still stay on track with training goals.