Should you work out when you're sick? Some experts use the “above-the-neck” rule to determine whether working out while sick is safe. Exercise is most likely safe when symptoms are located from the neck up.
Tips for working out when it's a minor illness
- If it's a mild cold, practicing proper hygiene is a great way to prevent spreading your cold to others. Wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough
- Always practice proper hygiene at the gym, especially when you have a runny nose. Wipe down equipment after you’ve used it to avoid spreading germs.
- Though exercise is likely safe when you have an earache, try to avoid exercises that put pressure on the sinus region.
- Staying hydrated with cool water is a great way to soothe a sore throat during exercise so you can add activity into your day.
It’s most likely OK to work out when you are experiencing a mild cold, earache, stuffy nose or sore throat, as long as you aren’t experiencing more serious symptoms.
When exercise is not recommended
- Working out while you’re feverish increases the risk of dehydration and can make a fever worse. Also, having a fever decreases muscle strength and endurance and impairs precision and coordination, increasing risk of injury.
- A persistent cough can make it difficult to take a deep breath, particularly when your heart rate rises during exercise. This makes you more likely to become short of breath and fatigued.
- Feeling weak is common when you have a stomach ailment, increasing the chance of injury during a workout. What’s more, many stomach illnesses like the stomach flu are highly contagious and can be easily spread to others
- Although not every person who gets the flu will experience a fever, those who do are at an increased risk of dehydration, making working out a bad idea. Though the majority of people recover from the flu in less than two weeks, choosing to engage in intense workouts while sick may prolong the flu and delay your recovery. This is because engaging in higher-intensity activity like running or a spin class temporarily suppresses the body’s immune response
If you are experiencing symptoms like fever, vomiting, diarrhea or a productive cough, taking time off from the gym may be the best option for both your own recovery and the safety of others.
When is it OK to return to your routine?
- Regular exercise can reduce your risk of becoming sick in the first place by boosting your immune system. However, it’s important to let your body completely recover from an illness before returning to your exercise routine, and you shouldn't stress even if you are unable to work out for an extended period of time.
- As symptoms subside, gradually begin introducing more physical activity into your day, being careful not to overdo it.
- Remember, your body may be feeling weak, especially if you are recovering from a stomach illness or the flu, and it’s important to pay attention to how you are feeling.
Waiting until symptoms completely subside before gradually getting back into your workout routine is a safe way to return to exercise after an illness.