Should You Work Out When You’re Sick?

tired woman runner taking a rest after running hard on city road

If you’re used to exercising on a regular basis, you probably feel your best when you stick to your workout routine as much as possible. But if you’re sick, is it still okay to work out?

That depends. Some symptoms of illness indicate you should skip your workout completely. Even if you decide you’re well enough to hit the gym or lace up your sneakers to head outdoors, it’s a good idea to take your usual activity down a notch. So if you usually run, go for a walk or a light jog instead. If Zumba is your thing, switch it up and do some yoga until you feel better.

You don’t want to put too much stress on your body if you’re not feeling 100% because the stress can further compromise your immune system. Low-intensity physical activity, on the other hand, typically won’t make you feel sicker and can even boost your immunity and help you feel better faster.

Here’s how to determine when to skip your work out if you’re sick:

Exercise with caution:
Symptoms such as sneezing, stuffiness, runny nose and eyes or even a sore throat and mild coughing don’t have to keep you in bed. If your symptoms are relatively mild or medication makes them bearable, it should be fine to work out. Just pay attention to your body and don’t do more than you feel up to doing. Stick with low-intensity physical activity rather than a strenuous workout.

Skip the workout for now:
Symptoms such as deep coughing, chest congestion, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain, fatigue or fever should be a sign that it’s time to skip your workout. It’s especially important to take a break from exercise if you have a fever. Raising your body temperature when exercising can make you even sicker if your temperature is already elevated.

Resuming physical activity:
If you put your workouts on hold due to illness, ease back into your regular routine based on the length of time you were sick. So if you were sidelined for 4 days, gradually increase the amount of activity you do over the next 4 days as your body re-adjusts to your workout.

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Review Date: November 30, 2016
Reviewed By: Andrew Overman, PT, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS
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