Exercise While Sick


You can feel yourself coming down with the sniffles – how do you know if its OK to exercise and sweat it out or if you should take a break?

Well, it all depends on what sort of exercise you’re going to do and what kind of sick you are.

When you’re feeling good, a hard workout encourages a stress response in the body and adaptation to this stress is how we get fitter and stronger.  When we’re sick, this sort of stress can be too much for our immune systems.  But depending on your symptoms it can still be useful do some physical activity.

Low intensity activities like walking, stretching, tai chi, yoga and gardening have been shown to increase immunity and help you to recover from illness more quickly.

The general rule when it comes to deciding whether or not to exercise when you’re feeling sick is the neck check.  If your symptoms are above the neck – sneezing, sore throat, runny nose – then it’s usually OK to work out but keep the intensity low and pay attention to how you’re feeling. Below the neck symptoms – coughing, aching muscles, fever and fatigue, diarrhoea and vomiting – signify it’s time to take a few days off, and get back to the exercise when your symptoms or infection are gone. Exercise in this state can make things worse.

The other thing to consider of course is not spreading your germs.  Best to stay away from the gym (and work) on the days you feel at your worst and do your low intensity activity (if appropriate) from home.  With a common cold, you’re typically contagious for about 5 full days, and your germs spread most easily during your 2 to 3 more symptomatic days, according to Michael Angarone, assistant professor of infectious diseases and medical education at Northwestern University’s Feinburg School or Medicine.  Cold germs can live on hard surfaces like dumbbells for hours.  Ugh.

So all in all, regular exercise while healthy will boost your immune system and protect you from illness.  When you’re not feeling so good, evaluate your symptoms and plan your activity accordingly.

Check out this handy guide from Precision Nutrition: