Is It Good To Exercise When You Are Sick?

Exercising regularly is the best way to ensure you remain healthy. In fact, working out regularly is known to have many benefits such as lowering the risk of many chronic lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. It is known to help keep your weight under control, and also boosts the immune system, helping you fight off many common infections. But what happens when you are unable to exercise? Everyone falls sick at some time. So, you are not feeling really good, but should you continue on with your exercising schedule? Or skip it while you are unwell? How do you decide, especially when you have been following a routine diligently without missing a day since you started up? Will you be able to resume your routine once you are well again or will you now fall behind? These are the most common questions that go through our minds when we fall sick.

Is It Good To Exercise When You Are Sick?

Should you work out when you are sick? While this is a question that many have faced at least once, the answer to this actually depends on what has made you sick. Sometimes, it might be okay to work out when you are sick, while others it is perhaps better to skip the workout and take rest.

Everyone wants to get better as soon as possible when they are sick. However, it is difficult to know at times when it is okay to power through your day and continue with your gym routine even when you are feeling sick.

Many doctors feel that fever should be considered to the limiting factor. While exercising with a cold is usually considered to be okay, but if you are having a fever, then you should definitely not work out.

If you are having a fever, the danger lies in exercising and further raising your body temperature internally. This is bound to make you sicker. In particular, if your fever is above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is better to take rest and not exercise.

Without a fever, most experts agree that you should only do the exercises that you feel you can do, and don’t indulge the ones that you feel you cannot do at that moment. Most people who tend to exercise daily, feel worse if they stop their exercising routine. However, if you have a case of bad flu or anything that makes you feel fatigued and unable to get out of bed, then you are unlikely to benefit much from exercising as well.

Most doctors use the ‘above the neck’ rule when they advise patients on whether to exercise while sick and this theory advises that if you are only experiencing symptoms above your neck then you are okay to exercise. Such symptoms will include sneezing, earache, stuffy or a runny nose, etc. However, if you are experiencing symptoms below your neck such as body aches, diarrhea, chest congestion, cough, nausea, etc., then it is advisable that you skip your workout routine till you feel better.

Let us see in which situations, it is deemed to be safe to exercise.

When is it Safe to Exercise?

It is usually considered to be safe to work out in the following conditions, though you should still check with your doctor if you remain unsure about your symptoms.

Mild Cold: A mild cold usually indicates a minor viral infection or the throat and nose. The symptoms of the common cold vary from person to person but generally includes having a stuffy and/or a runny nose, headache, sneezing, cough, etc. There is no need to skip your workout routine if you have a mild cold. You may feel that you lack the energy to complete your full workout routine, so you may consider lowering the intensity of your workout or reducing the duration. Make sure that you take precautions not to spread your germs to other people, causing them to become ill as well. Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth while sneezing or coughing. You can also opt for a face mask to prevent your germs from infecting others.

Stuffy Nose: Having a stuffy nose will leave you feeling uncomfortable and frustrated. If you also have a fever or chest congestion and severe cough along with a stuffy nose, then it is recommended that you avoid exercising. If, however, you are only having nasal congestion, then it is considered okay to exercise. In fact, exercising may very well help open up your nasal passages and help you breathe easier. Going for a brisk walk or riding your bike are good ideas to remain active even if you are feeling under the weather with a stuffy nose. Even though a stuffy nose does not seem to be a big problem, it is advisable that you always listen to your body with regards to what level you can push yourself to.

Earache: An earache can cause discomfort depending on the level of pain. It usually feels like a sharp, burning or dull pain that can either be located only in one ear or affect both ears. In children, earache is usually caused by an infection, while in adults; the pain usually is due to pain in a nearby area such as the throat. This is known as referred pain. In some people, sinus infections can also cause ear pain. Tooth infections, sore throat, changes in pressure while traveling, are all common causes of an earache. If your sense of balance is not affected, then working out with an earache is considered to be safe. There are certain types of ear infections that can mess up your sense of balance and in that case, working out is deemed to be unsafe. It is always better to consult your doctor if you feel you have an ear infection. Avoiding exercises that put pressure on the sinus region is advisable if you have an earache.

A Mild Sore Throat: Similar to the common cold, a sore throat is caused by a viral infection. If you have just a minor case of a sore throat, it is safe for you to proceed with exercising. Sometimes even seasonal allergies or a common cold can cause a sore throat and it is usually not a case of worry. If you experience fatigue, then you may want to reduce the intensity of your exercising routine. However, if your sore throat is accompanied with a fever, severe cough, difficulty in swallowing, then you should consult your doctor and only go ahead with your workout if you get the go-ahead from your doctor.

When Should You Not Exercise?

Exercising Is Not Recommended If You Experience The Following Symptoms:

Fever: Having a fever is a definite no-no for exercising. Your normal body temperature hovers around 98.6oF or 37oC. When you have a fever, it causes your body temperature to rise. A fever can be caused by many factors, though most common reasons are usually a viral or bacterial infection. Exercising when you feel feverish is likely to increase the risk of dehydration and also make your fever worse. You will also already be suffering from decreased muscle strength and endurance due to the fever. Therefore, if you continue to work out, you will only be increasing your risk of getting an injury. Skip your workout and take rest.

A Frequent Cough: Everyone gets an occasional cough or two as it is the general response of the body to clear the airways from any fluids or irritants. However, when you come down with an episode of frequent coughing, then it is usually an indication of having a respiratory infection. Even a cold, flu or pneumonia give rise to frequent coughing. If you have a cough accompanied with a tickle in your throat, then you can continue with your workout routine. However, a persistent cough is reason enough to stop your workout. It will make it difficult for your take deep breaths during exercise and will also cause you to feel out of breath and fatigued.

Stomach Issues: If you have any kind of condition that affects the digestive system, for example, the stomach flu, then it can cause symptoms that make any kind of exercising off limits. Vomiting or nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, stomach cramping, etc., are all common symptoms accompanying any stomach infections. Symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting increase the risk of dehydration, which further worsens with physical activity. Also, any kind of stomach ailment tends to make you feel weak, thus increasing the chance of injury during a workout.

When Can You Resume Your Workout?

If you work out regularly, then being sick makes you feel anxious to return to your workout routine. Regular exercise is good for you and it reduces the risk of you falling sick as it boosts your immunity. However, regardless of how quickly you want to restart your exercises, it is important to let your body recover completely before you restart your workout routine. Not being able to work out for some time should not be a cause of stress, as you will be able to get back to your routine normally once you restart. Many people worry that they will lose muscle mass and strength, if they take a couple of days off, but that is not the case. In fact, studies show that for most people, muscle loss only begins after nearly three to four weeks of not exercising.

So once you notice your symptoms reducing in severity, you can start to gradually introduce some level of physical activity, but be careful of not overdoing it at this stage.

You should also begin with low-intensity workouts when you restart your schedule and remain properly hydrated throughout your routine. Do keep in mind that your body may still be feeling weak, so pay attention to how you are feeling. So, do wait for your symptoms to subside completely before you gradually ease back into your workout routine after an illness.


You will be the best judge of deciding when your body is feeling too weak to exercise and when you can still push on with your work out. Known your limits and pay attention to how your body feels during the routine. If you notice any sort of discomfort, it is best to stop and allow your body to rest and recover.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 24, 2018

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