Is it OK to Exercise When You're Sick?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When temperatures begin to dip, it isn't too unusual to see a rise in the number of people walking around with the sniffles and the dreaded runny nose. Much of this has to do with the colder temperatures outside while the warm, dry air inside becomes a breeding ground for these viruses.

It is important to note that a cold is not the flu. While colds and the flu are both caused from viruses and can share common symptoms, colds tend to have milder symptoms, such as a runny nose, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention colds generally do not result in other health related issues such as pneumonia.

Flu on the other hand, can be quite contagious, lead to fever, aches and pains, chills, upper respiratory symptoms, a cough and other more serious health related risks such as pneumonia, which may or may not require hospitalization.

Many health experts advise one to continue an exercise regimen at a moderate pace but avoid doing any high intensity workouts if you have a cold, however, now is not the time push your body into some high intensity activity.

So when is it OK to keep on exercising if you are under the weather?

  • You do not have a fever.
  • Your symptoms are limited to the head only, in other words you are only experiencing symptoms above the neck, for example you have a runny or congested nose.
  • You have no other signs or symptoms.

    However if you have the following symptoms, it is best to wait until you are feeling better to get back to your routine.

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Lethargy or aches and pains
  • Swollen glands

    While being sick is difficult, especially if you are well into the routine of working out or trying to meet a goal, know that illness and exercise are both stressors on the body. Pushing yourself too hard and not allowing proper recovery may only prolong your illness or worsen your symptoms. Remember living a healthy lifestyle is a life-long journey so missing a few days or weeks will not undo all your hard work. Allow time for your body to recover and know that you will be back to your routine sooner than later, if you give enough time for your body to heal.

    Have you had a cold or flu this season? If yes, did it keep you from working out? Have you received the seasonal flu shot this year?

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    RECOVERYMAMA 10/30/2020
    I had all the Covid symptoms, on top of strep and a massive uti. took me two full weeks to recover. Definitely couldn't exercise, I couldn't even get out of bed. Trying to remember it takes time to physically recover after illness, and be kind to my body as we rebuild! Report
    I've been fighting a cold for several days, but no fever. I read that the cold virus can't really survive above 98.6 degrees so I think I'll head out for a walk this morning and see if I can kill it! LOL I'm already doing everything else I know to do.... Report
    I had a cold so mild I thought it was allergies. Went and did an intense workout and woke up the next morning with a full-blown cold.

    Thanks for this article. I have kickboxing class tonight, but since it is both intense and around other people I think I will do something moderate at home. I was looking forward to it, but I really can't be sick anymore. Report
    This is an important question now, in December. While it is important to keep your body exercised every day, Rest is equally important when you are sick. Sickness is not a normal thing. Sickness is a way of your body saying: "UM, you, you with the brain! I need help here! Cut me some slack,ok?" And taking care of yourself while you're out and about is CRUCIAL! I worked at a school last year and missed only three days of work cuz of sickness. It CAN be done. Use your best judgement and listen to your body. It will thank you by being healthy. Report
    I think it depends on whether or not you have a fever or bad body aches. Obviously, if your body is aching, take a hot shower first to see if you loosen up at all. If not, don't exercise - you could hurt yourself. And anything that makes you sweat when you have a fever should be out too. But for just a head cold - go for that walk or hit the treadmill but don't get chilled.
    Erin Report
    The left side of my head is all plugged up and I was considering swimming tonight. I only hope it doesn't make me feel worse Report
    One week Flu put me in bed. Next week flew to Oklahoma from Ohio for a wedding and to see family. Come home and next week flu bug is back. I gained 5 pounds the first two weeks, and from my spark emails I was able to get back on the bus and lost 2.5 pounds this week. I can't exercise like I was before all this hit, but I am doing little things to make a difference. This too shall pass. Good luck all! Report
    Just yesterday I woke up with a stuffy nose. Although I really just wanted to come home and rest, I decided to go to the gym anyway. I'm glad I did. While working out, my nose cleared up...I slept GREAT...and I'm actually feeling better today.

    I know that when you're really sick, you should take time off and rest. On the same note, if you're only suffering from some mild cold symptoms, I don't think that should be used as an excuse NOT to work out. Report
    I had swine flu two weeks ago and i don't know if affects people differently but if it doesn't, trust me you aren't able to work out even if u wanted to. It takes a lot for me to skip a workout but if I do the only time I won't feel guilty is when I'm sick. Report
    I just returned from a week's vacation in Virginia. Had a great time. Loved the warm weather.
    The plane ride back to the Northwest did me in. I caught an airplane bug, probably a cold. I can not bring myself to exercise. I start coughing if I move too fast or breath too deeply. I plan to get healthy before I start exercising. But in the meantime I'm trying to eat very sensibly and drink more than my usual amount of water. Report
    If I'm feeling achy I'll try to just rest as I know I will feel better faster. If I try to work out I usually end up more exhausted than before I started. Report
    I have been fighting a cold, had the flu. Went last week and got a flu and pneumonia vac. Feeling more energized this week! Report
    When I am not well, I try to keep up by doing Isometrics or stretching, but no aerobics and no going to the gym, because I don't want to give it to someone else or get something worse. Report
    I will exercise depending on what I'm sick with. I had a flu 2 weeks ago. I did some exercise through it. I took down the pace a lot, though. I've also had a sinus infection recently. It's now turned into a terrible cough. Still exercising... went back up to a more normal routine. I feel like I took a break for 1 week, so now I'm itching to get back to what I was doing. Maybe it's too fast. I have nonstop headaches and bad coughing spells. The joys of chronic sinus problems and a bad immune system. Report
    i exercised with what i thought was just a cold and it turned into a sinus infection because i was doing pilates moves & yoga & being upside down was NOT a good idea.. Report
    A moderate cold won't stop me from working out, but if I feel any worse, I can't seem to drag myself to the gym. After working all day and not feeling well, all I want to do is hit the couch. In regards to the flu vaccines, as a public health employee, I strongly recommend them. If you don't want one for yourself, get one to protect those who come in contact w/ you everyday. The flu shot is perfectly safe - as is the H1N1 vaccine. Roll up your sleeves! Report
    If you are sick you need to let the body repair itself by staying in bed and resting as much as possible. When you are done being sick you can start your exercises again. By excercising while sick all you will do is make things worse for yourself.
    Yes, but in great moderation. I'm just getting over the flu and tried to exercise everyday still. All that did was make me sicker. Report
    Thank god I haven't had a cold or flu this season, but looks like everyone else in my house has been under the weather the past two weeks. Report
    Those of you who can take flu shots are very fortunate people. I am unable to take them. I am on oxygen 24 hours a day and am infected easily by all kinds of germs.

    I have had flu twice this season. My temperature each time was 104 plus. I live alone. When this happens, I am just out of it until my temperature comes down. A lady mentioned that she ended up in the hospital, and her heart was racing like crazy.

    People, the flu is not something to mess around with. There are 32,000+ people who die of the flu every year...not just in a bad flu year. Besides making us feel miserable, the flu can do nasty things like damage your heart which it did to me about three years ago, and I developed atrial fibrillation.

    All I am saying is don't be so cavalier about the flu. It is a deadly disease more frequently than we like to think it is. We just don't take notice of it...unless a member of our own family dies. We need to take preventative action before that happens.

    Carol Report
    When I'm sick enough to question whether or not I should exercise, I'll often skip the weights and head for the recumbent bike. It's hard for me to overdo my cardio on the bike and if I start to get dizzy, I'm unlikely to injure myself while seated. For mild head colds I do find a good round of cardio can help me feel faster than a couple days of rest. Report
    I have a horrid sore throat today, and am still planning on going to Zumba. I know that I should take it easy, but this is my cornerstone day: I find if I workout on Monday, then I typically get my 4 workouts for the week in, whereas if I DON'T workout on Monday, I only get maybe 2 in. I don't know what it is, I just end up with a better week if I start strong.

    I do plan to take it easy though, and stop if my throat gets worse. Report
    I haven't had a cold since last winter and that one seemed to be worse than previous ones. Lots of chicken soup helped though! I took my 82 year old mother for a flu shot two weeks ago and got mine at the same time. Since I'm usually with elderly people over the past several years I have been getting the flu shots. Safer for them and for me.

    I do feel bad for those who can't take the flu shots for various reasons and wish them the best of health.

    Nice to hear some schools are doing away with good attendance awards. Now if we could only convince companies to be a little more lenient with sick days for people who are really sick! Doesn't help if your co-workers come in and cough or sneeze all over everything! Report
    I am just at the tail end of a cold that's lasted almost 10 days. I continued to work out after the first few days with this bug. But I noticed I felt a real decrease in energy during my cardio over this past weekend - after the bug moved into my chest. But the cough is breaking up so I hope to be able to keep up with my routine tomorrow. On the bright side this is the first cold I have had in over 3 years. I have not had the flu in about 25 years. Hope it stays that way! Report
    I already have had a cold this season, and am currently riding out the last few days of it (hopefully!). It has kept me from working out in some aspects. I don't work out as much as I usually do, instead of 4 or 5 days, now I do 2 or 3. When I do work-out, I make sure not to push myself and to listen to when my body is ready to quit.

    I haven't gotten the flu shot this year and I won't. I'm allergic to eggs, and the shot I could get is cultured in live egg yolk so no flu shot for me! I've been taking extra precautions though such as using hand sanitizer and making sure I'm washing my hands, and staying away from sick people! Report
    You forgot one important thing - if you are sick, please don't go to the gym! Work out at home.

    There's nothing worse than working out next to somebody who is sneezing and coughing all over the equipment. BLECH! Report
    Have you had a cold or flu this season? The season is just beginning, so no, I haven't had a cold or flu yet (knock wood). I haven't had a bad cold or flu for over 2 years, since having gastric bypass (read: I'm eating healthier and treating my body better than I have, ever!)

    Have you received the seasonal flu shot this year? Yes, I get one every year. I have four kids, and they bring home EVERYthing. I am even considering getting them into the pediatrician's for a flu shot this year (they are 18, 14, and twin 12-year-olds). Not sure yet about the swine flu vaccine. I'm 43, so not in the range of those who NEED it; I might wait until those who need it have had it, and then possibly consider getting it. Report
    This is very good to know. I don't get sick that often but when I do I feel like I'm only going to make it worse by working out. Report
    I have received the seasonal flu shots, as have my children and husband. When I am sick I don't work out. I just chill and give myself a day or two off from the workout routine. When I feel better I ease myself back into working out so I don't get too exhausted. Report
    I keep hearing comments that not getting the flu shot are stupid for not. While I understand why people are saying this it is hurtful because I am severely allergic and can not. So before you chew someone out for not getting it ask why. Not that anyone has above, I didn't read all the comments I just wanted to add my thought.

    Just something to think about. Report
    I have had a cold so far. Was babysitting and tend to get colds easily so I managed to get something from one of the kids. I didn't exercise, but partly because we hadn't moved the treadmill into the house yet for it didn't work where I'd originally placed it.

    I have never had a seasonal flu shot for two reasons. First, I wasn't really sure it was necessary. Second, I get the flu at random times of the year. I had the flu in the middle of summer a few years ago when I was living in a house that didn't have air conditioning. That was miserable. Over 102 temperature, using an ice pack to sleep and wishing for winter. Report
    I have not been sick this season and I don't take the flu shot. I will do my routine with sniffles but achy and pains I rest and take my motrin! Report
    I worked out through a head cold (mostly walking, crunches make my head feel like it's going to explode when it's stuffy). I was glad I kept up with working out and feel like I got over it quicker than if I had sat around. If I had had a fever or was throwing-up; I would have not exercised and gotten my well needed rest! I have gotten the flu shot this year, but am bummed that my pediatrician's office is out--so my daughter has not received it. I believe we will both get the H1N1; as I am in the child care industry and she's a kid. Neither of us are very prone to illness, but I sure would feel guilty if either of us were to become very ill with the flu. I'd rather be alive, working through a possible complication from the shot, than dead from the flu! Report
    I am sick and down today, but am still planning to go for a short walk atleast ! Report
    A doctor of mine once gave the following advice to me when I had a really yucky cold...

    Wrap up warm. take big hankey and go for a long walk in the sunshine.

    You know what? It worked. Report
    NOT getting a flu shot is "just plain silly". Flu shots cause our immune systems to "beef up" in a non-threatening way so that they can better handle the real thing when it comes along. I betcha that some folks who think them unnecessary also go to work sick - yuck! People dying from H1N1 have often been perfectly healthy adults with immune systems that they did not think were compromised, yet they were taken out of circulation. Do us all a favor and do everything you can to stay well and not give us your gunk. A big THANKS for those of you who DO get your vacinations. Report
    Having the sniffles is not enough: looks like I'll need a better excuse to not do my exercises. 8-) Report
    Um, I'll strengthen my immune system other ways, thank you. Flu is mostly avoidable through vaccination, and potentially fatal. Report
    Getting the flu shot is just plain silly if you don't have a weakened immune system or have excessive exposure to it (ex: childcare/health care.) Getting sick is an important part of our immune systems. Excessive sanitizing, is a TERRIBLE idea. It not only helps create "super bugs" it also weakens your immune systems.! Report
    I have not been sick for years, thank God. I have taken my seasonal flu shot. Will wait for H1N1 flu shot. Report
    I am not feeling well, today. I took the flu shot last week. I understand the flu shot is 70% effective. Report
    i hate being sick. i hate when it messes up my schedule. Report
    I had the flu last summer - ran a temp for about a week. If it's a cold, I'll do a light workout. However, if it's more serious, I'll take time off. I did get the flu shot this fall and plan to take the swine flu shot as well.
    Even if it's just a cold, if your body doesn't want to do the workout, take the time off. There's a difference between not wanting to work out and not physically being up to the task of working out. Report
    I have not had the flu either one. I have never had the cold. I haven't had the flu shot yet. I'm waiting for my doctor to get the shots in. Report
    I've only had the flu once in my life and definitely know the difference between flu and a cold. As for colds...I haven't had one for about 2 years....pretty good, eh? Report
    Have not had a cold for several years take Vitamin C tablet daily plus multi vitamin both DH and I have had the flu shot and not sure if will take swine flu one at this time will wait and see we don't really go out much in the winter months here in MN and now that we have had a hard freeze hopefully some of the virus bugs will disappear we do try to go out side every day even if it is just for a few minutes One Day At A Time Report
    I was hospitalized with pneumonia for one week and not allowed to exercise for almost a month. I am finally back into working out 5 days per week with 3 extra mini lunch time workouts. It feels so awesome to finally get back to my old routine. I really missed being able to work out every day. I pray I never am that sick again.
    My doctor's office is just getting their flu shots in tomorrow. And yes, I plan on getting both the flu and a pneumonia shot this year. Report
    Funny this blog comes right as I am sick! I vowed to walk 1 mile a day no matter how bad I feel and I have. But, today I thought I was feeling better and decdieddecided to up my cardio routine again and it nearly killed me! I thought I was OK since I never ran a fever, but I have a cough and lethargy. Anyhow, I allow my body to direct me as to what I can and can't do when sick. It was more than willing to tell me today that I am not ready to go back full force! I haven't gotten my flu shot b/c I was waiting on my scheduled MD appt. and got sick prior to it! I've felt really poorly lately! Report
    Ahead cold makes breathing so difficult that I usually do not exercise for a couple of days then. I have not had any flu shot yet, it's not available until Nov. where I live. Report
    I have just begun recovering from the swine flu, It is a miserable experience!
    I haven't even thought of going to workout it has been difficult enought to even breath. On an important note, get the flu shot!! I did not and I definitely regret it.
    On the upside I did lose a pound this week but not the right way :( Report