Should You Exercise When You Are Sick?

sick woman

For many people, exercise is an important part of their daily routine. It should come as no surprise, then, that these individuals often struggle with the decision of whether or not to exercise during an illness.

Evaluating Your Symptoms

Depending on the type of symptoms that you experience, exercise may - or may not - be warranted during an illness.


According to WebMD, exercising with a fever is a major no-no. During exercise, your body temperature rises, and if you are already suffering from a fever, WebMD notes that this bump in body heat can take your internal temperature to dangerous levels.

WebMD suggests that individuals who experience a fever of greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit postpone their exercise routine to prevent further exacerbations of the illness.

Perform a Neck-Check

A "neck-check" is a self-assessment tool that can help you determine if it is safe to exercise, reports WebMD. As suggested by the name, individuals who are feeling ill should assess whether their symptoms occur above or below the neck.

WebMD notes that exercisers who suffer from symptoms above the neck -- like a sore throat, nasal congestion, and sneezing -- should be able to resume exercise. In fact, the Mayo Clinic suggests that exercise may be helpful for those who suffer from these symptoms, as it can open nasal passages and reduce the severity of congestion.

Those who experience symptoms below the neck -- including coughing, body aches, and fatigue -- should put their exercise routine on hold.

Gastrointestinal Distress

A "stomach bug," or gastroenteritis, as it is sometimes called, often occurs as a result of the transfer of a highly-contagious virus from person to person, or through contaminated food. People who suffer from gastroenteritis may experience vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches and abdominal cramps, notes Syracuse University Health Services. Since exercise is prohibited for those experiencing a fever, individuals who develop gastroenteritis and have this symptom should put their exercise routine on hold.

Even in cases where a fever is not present, exercise may not be appropriate for those suffering from gastrointestinal distress. Dehydration is a dangerous complication of gastroenteritis and can also occur as a result of fluid loss during exercise. To prevent dehydration, those who experience gastroenteritis should avoid activities that promote fluid loss - such as that which occurs during physical activity.

Maintaining Exercise Safety

In many cases, those who are ill do not have the strength or energy to engage in a structured workout. Exercise junkies who have deemed it safe to exercise (and cannot go a day without their workout) should keep some basic recommendations in mind.

Know Your Limits

According to the Mayo Clinic, letting your body be your guide is crucial when exercising during an illness. In general, reducing the intensity and length of a workout is best for those who are not feeling up to par, as attempting your normal exercise routine may exacerbate symptoms and lead to more serious illness.

Individuals who feel worse after starting a workout should stop immediately and rest, reports CNN.

Best Exercises

CNN notes that walking is one of the best exercises for people who are ill and do not want to skip a workout, as it can assist in opening sinuses and may make it easier to breath. Similarly, engaging in other types of low-intensity aerobic exercise, like dancing, swimming, biking, or even light jogging, can be safe for exercise enthusiasts who are feeling under the weather.

Mind-body forms of exercise, like yoga or qi gong, are also appropriate choices for physical activity during illness, notes CNN. Yoga can help reduce the aches and pains associated with the common cold, and may increase the production of hormones that fight off illness.

Exercises to Avoid

While aerobic exercise can be beneficial when done in moderation during illness, more isn't always better. In fact, CNN notes that high-intensity aerobic exercise can actually make symptoms worse and may prolong illness.

In general, resistance training should also be avoided during illness, reports CNN. Many people experience a decrease in muscular strength and endurance while sick and therefore attempting to lift weights while in this condition can lead to serious injury.

Skip workouts that require you to be among large groups of people if you are sick, recommends CNN. For example, participating in team sports while sick can lead to the spread of germs and illness in other individuals.

Exercising While Ill

In general, individuals who do not have a fever and do not suffer from symptoms below the neck can safely engage in exercise during an illness. For optimal results, exercisers should be sure to limit the intensity and length of their aerobic exercise routine, and put resistance training and group sports on hold to prevent injury and the spread of germs to fellow athletes.

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Should You Exercise When You Are Sick?