Is It Okay To Exercise When Sick?


Exercising when sick may not be a good idea, especially doing intense workouts. Mild exercising can provide health benefits if you have simple ailments like cough and cold.

You are well-aware that being physically active can keep your immunity up, and help you prevent infections at the first place, and also fight them off effectively if you get them. So, to maintain this optimal level of immunity, you religiously follow all lifestyle habits considered healthy: eating healthy and clean, doing exercises, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, sleeping well, and managing stress well.

Although the above-mentioned rituals help you in building good immunity and warding off most infections, sometimes you run out of luck, and might suddenly you start feeling under the weather. What now? Should you curl up on the sofa under a blanket or keep on working up a sweat through exercise?

The answer depends on what is making you feel sick.

On a daily basis, your body encounters various invaders ranging from bacteria, fungi, viruses and even parasites.

Your immune cells interact with these invaders through the mucous membranes, lymph nodes and the spleen; this keeps you healthy and active. But when we fall sick, our bodies are stressed due to the increased energy required by our immune system to fight the infection and recover. Recently there have been many studies linking physical activity to a well-functioning immune system.

When Is It Okay To Exercise when sick?

As a rule thumb, it is generally alright to continue with moderate exercise if your ailments are only 'above the neck'. This means things like colds and allergies that are mainly affecting your nose, throat, ears, and upper respiratory tract.

When we're healthy, our bodies can easily fight off diseases and adapt to the stress of working out. During periods of stress because of illness, vigorous exercise may apply undue amounts of excess stress and overload your body.

However, this does not mean you should be completely sedentary. In fact, low to moderate intensity exercise can be a good thing, especially if have a common cold or mild flu and no fever.

You can switch your focus to lighter exercises and stretches like yoga, walking, leisure cycling etc. These exercises and low impact movements can help with blood circulation without being too exhausting and strenuous on the body.

Light amounts of physical activity can even help to clear your airways and help relieve nasal congestion. Exercise can even help bring up your heart rate and stimulate circulation, this can help improve immune surveillance in your body and help to fight infections.

But, take heed of what your body says and don't overdo it. If you feel worse after exercise that is a good cue to stop and take rest.

When Not To Exercise when sick?

Now that we know when it is okay to exercise, we should discuss when exercising or any strenuous activity is a complete no-no.

It is best to avoid working out if the symptoms of your illness or infection are 'below the neck'. This includes chest congestion, stomach upsets, fevers, fatigue or widespread muscle aches. For example, running with a fever can strain your body unnecessarily, and worsen your health.

Some people, in order to prevent the negative effects of a sedentary life, may become overenthusiastic and go ahead with their exercise when sick. However, over-working the body when it is trying to recover can make the symptoms worse and even extend the recovery time.

What Are Some Workouts To Avoid When Sick?

In general, when you are fighting infections, it is best to avoid workouts of high intensity such as, sprinting, strength training with heavy weights, endurance training - such as running for long periods, power yoga, pilates and of course, team sports - which can put others at risk of getting sick.

Remain in tune with your body and don't overstrain yourself -if you feel miserable and just need some rest, do exactly that. However, under the right conditions, working out can boost blood circulation, and improve breathing and oxygenation. Mild to moderate physical activity can benefit immunity and assist in a speedy recovery.

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Our team of experts frequently monitors developments in the health and wellness field, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Aug, 01 2023