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Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

Learn some general guidelines.

woman at gym with a personal trainer

So, you’re sick — but you don’t want to put the brakes on your workout routine. Is it still okay to hop on the treadmill, or is your best bet to just hold off on exercise?

Most experts say that exercise in moderation is fine if your symptoms are mild and “above the neck.” Examples include a runny nose, sore throat, or sneezing, as you would have with the common cold. In this case, moderate exercise may even be beneficial and boost your immune system.

Be sensible though, and make sure to reduce the length and intensity of your workout when you’re not feeling well. Think low-impact. If you usually jog, consider walking instead. Pushing yourself too hard is not a good idea, as vigorous exercise could potentially stress your immune system and slow your recovery time.

Are you a regular gym-goer? Keep in mind that you might spread your illness to others so it may be better to stay home. If you do go, wash your hands with soap and water frequently, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Use good judgment

Exercise is usually not advised if you have symptoms below the neck. This includes complaints like muscle aches, fever, swollen lymph glands, or extreme tiredness, such as you would have with the flu.

Listen to your body. Sometimes, rest is the best remedy. Working out can always wait!

The reality

Adults, on average, catch two to three colds per year. And anyone can get the flu, particularly during flu season and especially if you’re not vaccinated.

But if you do, don't worry too much about losing any fitness gains you made before you were sick. Taking time off doesn't mean you have to go back to square one.

Ease back into it

Had to take your workouts down a notch? If the culprit was a bad cold, allow yourself several more days at this lower level before getting back into your usual routine.

If you haven’t been working out at all due to the flu or other conditions, you may need to wait at least two weeks before heading to the gym again, depending on how sick you were and what your doctor advises.

Feel better soon!

By Lucy M. Casale, Contributing Writer

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others. Accessed: January 20, 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get a flu vaccine. Accessed: January 20, 2015.
American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and the common cold. Accessed: January 20, 2015.
American Council on Exercise. Can exercise reduce your risk of catching a cold? Accessed: January 20, 2015.

Updated January 20, 2015