Exercising when you’re sick. Is it ok to do?

Sick-looking man exercising

© 9nongetail

Guest post by Stan Skolfield, Manager, OA Performance Center.

You have been disciplined about your gym routine for the past few months and exercising on a regular basis. Suddenly, you get sick. Wonderful, now you can’t work out until you get over it. Not so fast … getting some exercise when you’re sick isn’t always a bad idea. Getting a workout in can actually boost your immune system and help you get over this bug.

Unless you are completely under the weather and bedridden then some low intensity, low heart rate “cardio” can help you feel better. In general, a 20-30 minute walk done either outside or on a treadmill at home (not in a public gym — you don’t want to spread your illness) is the preferred method of exercise. There are a few other low-intensity activities you can consider:

Good exercise Choices

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Biking

Bad exercise choices

  • Prolonged endurance training
  • Team sports
  • Sprinting or power related activities
  • Heavy strength training
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Exercising in extreme temperatures

No fever, no body aches

With a cold or a sore throat (no fever or body aches), light exercise as described above is fine as tolerated. You don’t want to do anything with moderate to high levels of intensity. This is not the time to go run for an hour or fit in that triathlon workout. Long duration endurance activities have been shown to depress the immune system.

Fever and other symptoms

If you have a systemic illness with fever, elevated heart rate, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes, by all means, DO NOT EXERCISE. Get some rest! If you have a serious virus and you exercise it can cause problems.

Serious infection

Some illnesses can indicate a serious infection. Generally, if you are not feeling better or showing signs of recovering then you should see a doctor. When you feel like you are better (let your symptoms be your guide), ease back into exercise in proportion to the length of your illness. For example, if you were sick for three days then take three days to get back into your workout.

Any questions, send an email to Diane at Catching Health and we’ll try to get you an answer. (General questions, please, nothing personal.)

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.