Can I Exercise When I’m Sick?

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This is a question I hear a lot this time of year. Is it better to curl up and rest or push yourself to exercise?

One of the benefits of being fit and nutritionally sound is that you can take time off and recover, using the reserves you have stored to help you recover.  A simple guideline to follow is that if your body is under stress when you’re sick, rest. Allow your body to mobilize and fight off the illness.  Too much exercise, especially intense exercise should be avoided because it will add even more stress and burden on your already stressed system. This would not be helpful.

However, moderate exercise like walking, keeping your body moving a bit is fine as long as you listen to your body and don’t overdo it. There are certain times that motion and moderate exercise are actually preferable when you’re sick.  Follow these basic guidelines.

When it’s okay to exercise if you’re sick:

If your symptoms are above your neck, it’s usually okay to exercise. Keep in mind, this is a lower intensity exercise than you’re used to.  This would include symptoms like:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing

If you have enough energy to exercise, increasing your body temperature from exercise will actually help to kill many of the ‘bugs’.  (Just like what a fever does.)  In fact, according to research, exercising with a cold may be well advised. Again, the key to exercising when you’re sick is to be careful and listen to your body. Don’t over exercise as it will increase stress on your body and this can suppress your immune system. Keep it moderate, go for a brisk walk or a toned down version of your regular workout.

“…Prolonged intense exercise causes immunosuppression, whereas moderate intensity exercise improves immune function and potentially reduces risk and severity of respiratory viral infections…” as noted in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19955864

 

When it’s NOT okay to exercise when you’re sick:

It’s usually advised that you not exercise if you have symptoms below your neck.

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Coughing or chest congestion
  • Vomiting, upset stomach and/or stomach cramps
  • Widespread body and muscle aches

 

Again, listen to your body.  Feeling fatigued when you’re sick is your body’s way of telling you to rest. Avoid intense exercise whenever you’re sick, but if you feel up for it, mild to moderate exercise is good if you follow these guidelines.