Should You Work Out When You're Sick?


When my husband saw the title of this article, he said, "If you have to ask that question, there's something really wrong with you." And, frankly, he's probably right. But for those of us who are exercise enthusiasts (not necessarily addicts, dear), we find it perfectly normal to weigh the pros and cons of following through with a workout while we're busy hacking up a lung and/or expelling copious amounts of fluid from our noses.

It's just how we are.

Most of us know the general thinking about exercising when sick, but there are a few hard and fast rules to follow.

When to Avoid Exercise

If you're looking for reasons to skip your workout, there are a few really good ones out there. Sometimes it's obvious, but other times you're just not sure. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you workout:

  • Do I have a fever? - If you do, don't exercise. That's usually a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The last thing you want to do is raise your body temperature even more with a workout.
  • Am I hacking up a lung? - A wet hacking cough that brings up a lot of crud may interfere with your breathing, making a workout a bad idea, although you might be able to get away with some light stretching.
  • How energetic do I feel? - If you feel energetic enough to exercise, it may be okay, but if your energy is in the toilet, don't try to force your poor, sick body to exercise.
  • Do I really feel like exercising? - We sometimes feel guilty if we have a cold or something not-so-bad and don't really want to workout. If you're a regular exerciser, that's probably just your inner critic telling you lies. If you don't feel like working out because you're sick, stay in bed.
  • Did my doctor tell me not to exercise? - I often feel like I know best when it comes to my body, but there's someone smarter than I am and her name starts with Doctor. Feel free to argue with your doc, but always follow his or her orders.

    Basically, if you feel awful, a workout will probably feel awful. If you feel kind of crappy, a light workout might actually make you feel better. And don't worry about losing too much fitness. It takes more than a few days off from exercise to lose aerobic endurance and muscle strength, so take as long as you need until you feel better.

    Another worry is making things worse by exercising. For the most part, moderate exercise can sometimes help you feel better, but you want to avoid overexertion with high-intensity workouts. Your immune system is already fighting a bug and a hard workout can lower your immune system even more.

    Workouts for When You're Sick

    All that said, sometimes it feels good to move your body when you've got a cold. However, you don't want to go too hardcore, but stick with simple workouts such as:


    Nieman, D.C. Exercise Immunology: Practical Applications. Int J Sports Med 1997; 18: S91-S100