Should You Exercise or Walk When You Are Sick?

Rules of Thumb for Workouts When You're Sick

Coughing and Sneezing
Coughing and Sneezing. Tetra Images/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Do you have a runny nose? Congestion? Coughing? Sneezing? Fever? Diarrhea? Should you do your workout today? Should you really walk or run that half marathon you've been training for the past three months?

When you are feeling sick you either think this is the perfect excuse to skip exercising, fitness walking or gym workouts. Or, you may be registered for a race you've been training for when the symptoms strike.

What's safe and appropriate for exercise when you are sick?

Sick with Above-the-Neck Symptoms - Yes, Exercise

If your symptoms are all above the neck, you are safe to walk at an easy to moderate pace or to do easy workouts. These symptoms would include a runny nose, sinus congestion, post-nasal drip, sneezing.

Walk 10 minutes at an easy pace. If you feel good, continue. If you don't -- stop and just do stretching and flexibility exercises. These can make you feel better in general. Stretches for Walkers

I have walked more than one half marathon with a head cold, but no fever or lung congestion. Bring lots of tissues, or better yet an actual cloth handkerchief. You're going to have a lot of drainage. But each time I was happy I didn't drop out, as the walking at a moderate pace made me feel better overall.

Sick with Below-the-Neck Symptoms - Don't Exercise

If you have any symptoms below the neck such as a hacking cough, diarrhea, swollen lymph glands - don't exercise.

If your lungs are feeling congested, you need to skip your workout. Symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea tell you to stay home. You can get dehydrated easily if you are experiencing those symptoms.

I am proud of my long streaks of logging 10,000 steps per day on my Fitbit, but when I had a bout of food poisoning I simply could not get the steps in safely that day.

If You Have a Fever - No Exercise

If you have a fever, chills, body aches, or upset stomach, do not exercise. You are too sick for a workout. You may have an infectious disease that you shouldn't take with you to the gym to share with others.

Don't Share Your Sickness

Be a good sport - don't share your cold. Even if all of your symptoms are above the neck, stay away from the gym where you'll be spreading your germs. Avoid groups of people. Don't sneeze on your walking partner.

Wash your hands often when you have a cold and but you must share your space with others. Use warm water and soap. Scrub your hands gently with the soap while singing the ABC Song to yourself - that is the right amount of time to suds. Then rinse. Turn off the faucet with a paper towel - faucet handles and door knobs are often the dirtiest part of a restroom. If you don't have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer. It's wise to carry a small bottle of sanitizer in your walking pack.

When to Get Back to Walking and Exercise After Being Sick

After a bad cold, give yourself three to four days to get back up to full speed.

Ease back into it with shorter walks at slow speed, and keep up your stretching and flexibility exercises. After a bout of the flu or other infections, give yourself at least a week to recover.

Related: Should You Walk When It Hurts?

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