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Working Out While You’re Sick – Is It a Good Idea?

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Flu season is here. I seem to always get sick in December, and I’m slow to get back into a healthy routine when I feel better.  Besides feeling like doo-doo, getting sick can really throw off my diet and fitness goals.  Knowing this, I sometimes wonder if working out while you’re sick is a good idea so that I stick to my good habits.

Working out while you're sick can leave you feeling worse. Find out the best plan of action and types of exercises to do and avoid while you're feeling bad.

I decided to do some research on the topic, and I found it is really a judgment call and depends on your symptoms.

Sometimes working out while you’re sick can help you feel better, but other times it can actually put too much pressure on your body and make your recovery time longer.

Related: Cold Remedies — 12 Ways to Get Over a Cold and Feel Better

Is it OK to workout when you have a cold?

If you have a runny nose, congestion, sneezing or a minor sore throat without a temptation or breathing issues, you can still workout. However, it’s best to reduce the intensity of the workout until you are feeling better though.

The idea is to not put an additional strain on your immune system – which a high-intensity workout can do. By moving around or doing a low to moderate workout, you may feel better (at least mentally) though.

Can working out help you get over a cold faster?

Just because you’re dropping down to a lighter workout doesn’t mean working out will make you cold go away. Even with a low to moderate intensity workout, you need to make sure you’re staying properly hydrated, or you may feel even worse due to dehydration.

Workouts You Could Do Instead While You’re Sick

I know staying in a routine can help with consistency with your workouts and meals. So there are a few low to moderate types of workouts you could include if you feel like it. Always listen to your body!

The idea is to keep your heart rate low and body from experiencing unneeded stress.

You should avoid these exercises while sick:

  • Heavy strength training
  • Running or long cardio training
  • High-intensity workouts
  • Sports

What if it’s more than a cold?

The Above/Below Neck Rule For Working Out While You’re Sick

Symptoms Above the Neck

If your symptoms appear above the neck (a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat), then yes, you can continue with a moderate- to low-intensity workout. Since I like to stay in a healthy routine, I would use a Pilates, Stretch, or Core DVD. I always workout at home, but even if you’re a gym bunny, still consider a DVD. Not only will it allow you to stay home and relax, but it also helps keep germs out of the gym.

Symptoms Below the Neck

If your symptoms are below the neck (diarrhea, intense coughing, vomiting, fever), then the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests you let your illness run its course before resuming your workout. If you work out when you have these intense symptoms, you risk your health and increase your chances of an injury due to a workout.

What if you skip working out while you’re sick?

Your results will not disappear in the few days you are sick. For me, the mental aspect of skipping a few workouts is far more intense than the changes in my body.

Diet is 70-80% of fitness results from any workout even when you are healthy. Therefore, if you are concerned about losing muscle definition or gaining weight, make sure you are eating well.

Furthermore, getting the proper nutrition will not only help you keep your results, but it will help your body fight off whatever illness it has.

Tips to Remember About Working Out While You’re Sick:

Your body is talking to you! Feeling stressed or overtraining can lead to illness. “Mind over matter” goes both ways–You need to listen to your body and set realistic goals.

Stay hydrated. Only drink Sprite and juices in moderation. While each holds some logical reasoning of why people recommend them, your body also needs good ol’ fashioned water! Water will help flush out the toxins that have made you sick in the first place.

If you do a workout, remember to take it easy. High-intensity workouts have been shown to make you feel worse and create setbacks! YUCK! Stick to moderate- to low- intensity workouts to keep your routine without potentially harming your health.

If you workout at the gym, be courteous! Hand sanitizer and keeping a clean exercise space is vital and will much be very appreciated! Also, you can always look into a workout DVD or Youtube a workout while you’re sick.

Working out while having the neck symptoms or running a temperature can make you feel worse. The reason is as you exercise your body temperature rises. If you have a temperature of 101 degrees let your body rest and fight the infection.

Most importantly, don’t get down…..

In less than 2 weeks, you will be feeling like yourself again!

Studies show a typical cold lasts about 7 days while the flu lasts around 10-14 days.

One more bit of good news:

Exercisers in general tend to catch fewer colds than their sedentary counterparts, research suggests. If done regularly, moderate exercise can halve the number of days you spend with cold symptoms. — CNN

Do continue working out right you’re sick?

Do you use the Above/Below the Neck Rule?

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  1. I keep in mind the above and below rule of thumb but mostly if I’m sick and feel like working out then I do. If I don’t feel like it there is probably a reason. I’ve learned to simply listen to my body. Great post!

  2. I usually don’t work out when I’m sick because my body likes to sleep to kick whatever’s butt it’s up against & I just don’t have the energy.

  3. Love this post! Really great tips to go by when I’m sick because I always wonder if it’s okay to go ahead and work out. Thanks for posting! :)

  4. This was all very interesting to read. There really is no excuse why I can’t stop being lazy and be more active.

  5. I had never heard of the above and below the neck rule before. Thanks for sharing. Visiting from SGBC!