The question of whether or not you should exercise while sick can be a tricky one to answer. On one hand, physical activity can boost your immune system, energy, and mood, but on the other, pushing yourself too hard can prolong your illness and potentially make you feel worse.

So, what to do? The answer is: it depends. Here’s some info and advice to help you determine whether exercising while under the weather is more likely to be helpful or harmful:

Should you exercise when you’re sick?

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

First of all, it’s extremely important to listen to your body, as nobody else can understand exactly how you’re feeling. This is why our in-home and virtual personal trainers constantly ask how their clients feel during workouts.

 Understanding the body’s response to movement allows us to tailor exercise programs to specific needs (whether you’re sick or not). Pay attention to how you feel overall, and if you’re working with a trainer, communicate this with them as you go. “Let your body be your guide. If you feel miserable, take a break. A few days off from exercise when you’re sick shouldn’t affect your performance” (Mayo Clinic 2023).

ASSESS YOUR SYMPTOMS

The severity of your symptoms plays a crucial role in determining whether exercise is appropriate. If your symptoms are mild and localized, such as a runny nose or sore throat, light to moderate exercise might be manageable and could even help you feel better by boosting your circulation and releasing endorphins. However, if your symptoms are more severe, such as intense fatigue, dizziness, or difficulty breathing, it’s probably best to put exercise on the backburner for a bit. 

“Many experts use the “above the neck” rule when advising people on whether to continue working out while sick. According to this theory, if you’re only experiencing symptoms that are above your neck, such as a stuffy nose, sneezing, or an earache, you’re probably OK to engage in exercise at mild intensity for a shorter period, but only if you feel up to it. On the other hand, if you’re experiencing symptoms below your neck, such as nausea, body aches, fever, diarrhea, a productive cough, or chest congestion, you may want to skip your workout until you feel better” (Healthline, 2023).

ASSESS YOUR ENERGY

Another factor to consider is your energy. If you’re feeling fatigued or exhausted, pushing yourself to exercise can do more harm than good. You could complete the workout feeling more exhausted and begin to harbour negative feelings towards exercise.

If your fatigue is very high but you still want to do something, prioritize gentle activities like stretching or short walks. If you’re experiencing mild symptoms and have adequate energy, engaging in light to moderate aerobic exercise may feel good.

MODIFY

If you do decide to exercise while sick, it’s essential to modify your routine accordingly. Choose low-impact activities that won’t put too much strain on your body. Avoid high-intensity workouts, heavy lifting, or activities that require prolonged exertion, as these can suppress your immune system and worsen symptoms. In-home and virtual personal trainers are skilled at modifying workouts when clients need it, as our job is to ensure your workouts support your health in every way possible.

HYDRDATE

Whether you’re exercising or resting, staying hydrated is key to supporting your immune system and promoting recovery. Drink plenty of fluids such as water, herbal tea, or electrolyte- replenishing drinks to stay hydrated, especially if you’re experiencing fever or sweating. “Exercise may be optional when you’re sick, but making sure you drink enough water isn’t” (Cleveland Clinic, 2022).

In addition, you should fuel your body with nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains to provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed for healing.

FINAL WORDS

When it comes down to it, prioritizing rest is often the best course of action when you’re feeling unwell. Taking a day or two off from exercise to allow your body to recover can prevent the illness from worsening and reduce your risk of setbacks. Remember that rest is an essential part of the healing process and that pushing yourself too hard can prolong your recovery time. It’s better to take a day or two off and come back with 100% effort rather than limp through 2 weeks of sick days.

If you could use some help reaching your fitness goals, we’re here for you. We offer in-person training in Toronto, Collingwood, Ottawa & Hamilton and virtual personal training everywhere. First workouts are zero pressure and always free – you can book yours here.