Can You Exercise While Being Sick? – A Healthy or Risky Move?

Reviewed by: | Author: Manoja Kalakanti

Exercising is a terrific way to boost your immunity. In fact, it is a great way to ward off chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases, as it keeps your weight in check. But is exercising when sick okay? It is an interesting query as we are often torn between these two conflicting options when we are sick; should we exercise? Or should we skip it? There isn’t any ready answer to it, let’s discuss in this article when it is safe to exercise and when it is not.

Exercising When Sick is Good or Bad

How Exercise Impacts our Immune System

Exercise plays a very important role in our immune response. Let’s go into this in detail.

After a particularly hard sweat session at the gym, we may turn out to be more prone to infection. Suppose you are running a marathon, your adaptive immune system may take a beating for a while, say 72 hours. This is the very reason endurance athletes fall sick after a heavy-duty marathon session.

It does not mean, however, that one brief vigorous exercise session will cause the same immune-suppressing effect. Also, just one intensive exercise session cannot affect your entire immunity. The truth is that moderate exercise or resistance training can increase your immune system’s effectiveness. The bottom line is, train hard while you are healthy and take it easy if you haven’t been keeping well. A study was done on exercising participants and it revealed that the two extremes, that is the sedentary group and the group that exercised most, (read more than four times a week) suffered most. Their immunity was suppressed and they fell sick more often.

Workout When Sick

Should you Workout When you are Sick?

If you are really sick and continue to pursue your fitness goals at the gym, you may find it difficult to bounce back to complete recovery. So take a few days off, you can always get back to exercising when you are back to the pink of your health.

Fitness fanatics find it the most difficult to not work out when they are sick. I can totally relate to this as I am an exercise fanatic myself and feel frustrated when I am sick. So, should you exercise or not, when you are sick? The question has not been answered yet.

For that, you can follow the above-the-neck rule! Don’t worry, we will explain exactly what this rule is. If your symptoms affect the above-your-neck portion, such as a stuffy nose, earache or if you are plagued by bouts of sneezing then you can head to the gym, or start with some light exercises at your home. The symptoms below your neck are what may prove to be a spoilsport. These symptoms include fever, diarrhea, cough or a chest congestion. In this situation, you should rather snuggle in your bed and forget the exercising part.

When Can you Exercise? Know about Specific Conditions

Exercise according to your health condition, but first consult your doctor before you decide to go ahead with your exercise regimen.


  1. Mild Cold

A mild cold usually results from a viral infection of the nose and throat. You may have symptoms such as a headache, stuffy nose, sneezing, and a mild cough. If you have a mild cold, you needn’t skip the gym, especially if you have the energy to go out there and workout. Also, don’t go for long workouts and reduce the intensity, sometimes you need to exercise because of the happy hormones and not for your fitness goals. Be careful that you do not spread the germs to the people who are gymming with you, follow the basic hygiene routine to prevent the same.


  1. Earache

An earache is an either sharp, dull or burning pain in one or both ears. The ache may reach your throat too and you experience ‘referred pain’. There are lots of causes of ear pain, it may be because of a sinus infection, sore throat, tooth infection or fluctuations in pressure.

If you do not have a balance problem or infection you may go ahead and exercise. Sometimes earaches can cause a feeling of fullness or pressure that may prevent you from working out.

Stuffy Nose

  1. Stuffy Nose

I know what it feels like to have a stuffy nose. It feels frustrating and oh-so-uncomfortable. You also experience other symptoms such as a chest congestion or a cough. A mild nasal congestion is okay. Some exercises may even help you breathe better. Listen to your body, it will tell you whether you should workout or not. Also, what works is working out according to your energy level. Sometimes going for a walk or a bike ride always helps, you may not be in a mood for a CrossFit session but a walk out in the park can be a great substitute.

sore throat

  1. A sore throat

A common cold or flu causes a sore throat. If you have an accompanying fever, a cough or have a problem swallowing, you should give exercising a miss and consult your doctor. A milder version, however, is okay, and you can go ahead and exercise.

However, if you are experiencing a mild sore throat because of a common cold or allergies, working out is okay. Also, if you are experiencing other symptoms such as fatigue and congestion, reduce the intensity of your workouts. Keep yourself hydrated to soothe a sore throat so you can exercise and not feel any discomfort.

When Exercise Is a Complete No-No

While in some cases exercising is an okay, such as in the condition of a mild cold or an earache, in some cases, exercising has to take a backseat.

Reduces fevers and chills

  1. Fever

When you have a fever, your body temperature shoots up. Our body temperature rises above the normal range, which moves around 98.6°F (37°C). A bacterial or viral infection triggers off a fever.

Fevers come with symptoms such as dehydration, weakness, muscle aches and loss of appetite. When you are sick you run the risk of dehydration, especially when you exercise. Dehydration leads to loss of muscle strength and endurance and can disrupt the precision and coordination that increases injury-risk. So, skipping the workouts is a good idea when you are running a fever.


  1. Incessant Coughing

An occasional cough isn’t a big deal and it is perfectly alright to go ahead and do your workout, as coughing sometimes releases the irritants or fluids blocking the body’s airways. This is the body’s natural response to get rid of it. However, severe coughing is a symptom of an infection, such as cold, flu or pneumonia. So, skip the gym and take the much-needed rest.

When you work out, your breathing should be perfect, as most fitness instructors would tell you, “do not forget to breathe while you workout”. But when you are down with a respiratory disorder, breathing normally becomes a problem, thus affecting your workout and your health. You become short of breath and fatigued. Also, you must think of your fellow gym-goers too, as they are exposed to your germs.

 stomach flu

  1. Stomach Bug

Your workout is off-limits when a stomach bug hits you. You suffer from severe repercussions all thanks to the stomach bug, such as nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, cramping and fatigue. These symptoms put you at risk of dehydration and exercising makes it worse. When you feel weak, you run the risk of an injury during a workout. Also, the stomach flu is contagious and you may spread it to others at the gym. Instead of intensive interval training or strength training, you should settle for something less intensive such as stretching and yoga.

Flu Symptoms

  1. Flu Symptoms

Influenza is a contagious condition and can impact the respiratory system. The flu causes symptoms such as a sore throat, body ache, headache, cough, and congestion. A flu infection can cause dehydration and disrupt your workout routine. It can last up to two weeks, so restrain from engaging in intensive workouts during that time. If you indulge in high-intensity exercises during that time, such as a spin class or running, it will suppress your body’s immune system.

It is highly contagious and easily spreads via tiny droplets in the air as you sneeze, cough or talk. So, if your doctor asks you to rest it out, listen to him/her.

Anxious to Get Back to Your Exercise Regimen? – Exercises to do When Sick

When is it safe to exercise? If you are like me you’ll be anxious to get back to an exercise regime, after suffering from a bout of illness. Regular exercise does a lot of good things to your immune system. So, if you stick to a regular exercise regimen, there are fewer chances of you falling sick in the first place.

However, taking it easy is the name of the game. Don’t worry, once you are well-recovered you’ll jump to your old exercise routine and nail your workouts as usual. If you worried about muscle loss, research says it starts after three weeks of no-training. As far as strength is concerned, it begins to decline after 10 days. If you are back at the gym, remember to take it easy for a while, then after you are good and ready, take it up a notch. Remember, your body is your best judge and will tell you whether you are good to go for the workout. If you are still confused, call your doctor for help. Try the following workouts to gradually gain back your strength and your health.

yoga for toned skin

  1. Restorative Yoga or Stretching

Yoga does wonders for your mind, body or soul. All you need is a series of gentle restorative poses and it will stretch the languidness away. It works out every tiny muscle you’ve got, helping loosening up your body and make it lithe. It also helps get rid of the built-up tension or stress that assails your body, as you were sick.

Aqua workouts

  1. Aqua workouts

Jumping into intensive workout sessions right after a long bout of sickness isn’t too wise. Going gentle and taking it easy is the key. Water aerobics is a great way to ease back into exercising. Even something as gentle as pool walking is impactful and has its own benefits. You’ll engage your muscles with a lot less impact. Do it on a slow gentle pose. I know, for somebody who works out regularly, it is a tough advice to follow. But, you can easily get back to your old intensive workouts, when you feel your body is ready for more challenges. Only thing is, keep your head above the water to avoid the chlorine from getting into your eyes, nose, and throat.

  1. Try the recumbent bike

It is easy to spread germs at the gym, so, stay put at your home. But if you do plan to venture out, spend time on the recumbent bike you’ve been ignoring all along at the gym. This will increase your heart rate, and yet not stress your body too much. Just wipe the machine down after you are done, it’s simple gym etiquette to not just think about you, but also the person who’ll sit on the bike next.

strength training

  1. Gentle strength training

Instead of going for an intense strength training circuit, settle for slow-paced, low-intensity weight training. If you have a few dumbbells at home, great! If you do not, go for weighted water bottles. Here’s a catch, when you are training, do not compete with your former healthy self, do not be too hard on yourself, conserve your energy and go slow on the strength training workout.

Brisk walking

  1. Brisk walking

If you feel the above-mentioned workouts are too tough on your current health state, go for a brisk walk, it will bring your heart-rate up and that fresh air will feel good after spending hours sitting cooped up at your home. Some nourishment for your mind as well as for your body.

So, exercising when sick is perfectly okay, especially when you are smart about your regime. If your body tells you are up for it, go for the exercises, but only for the less-intensive ones, something that is gentle on your body and mind!

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