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question

Can I continue exercising when I am ill?

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT on behalf of Sharecare Fitness
Fitness
answer

Generally speaking, continuing your exercise routine when you’re ill depends on if your symptoms are above the neck or below it. If you’re experiencing symptoms above the neck, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, etc., then it is considered okay to exercise as long as you keep the intensity low. Low to moderate intensity exercise, walking at a pace comfortable enough to have a conversation with someone, has been shown to not compromise the immune system or intensify cold symptoms. High intensity exercise on the other hand, such as heavy strength training, vigorous cardio, interval training, etc. should definitely be avoided as research shows it will negatively impact the immune system during a cold or when an infection is present.

When your symptoms are below the neck, chest congestion, coughing, vomiting, total-body aches, fever, diarrhea, etc., the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you listen to your body, rest, and let your illness run its course before gradually returning to exercise.

Jonathan Penney
Jonathan Penney on behalf of National Academy of Sports Medicine
Fitness
answer
All too often people go with the common saving, “I will sweat out the cold.”  However, this should not occur.  If your body is ill then your body needs rest.  Be sure while resting to drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated but again, give your body some rest.  You are potentially prolonging your cold or cough by trying to fight it off while exercising.  Exercising when ill can have some benefits as it may clear up sinus passage ways but again, I recommend taking 24-hours to allow your body to rest prior to engaging in physical activity.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
answer
One beauty of exercise is that it kicks your immune system into high gear. But that does not mean that you should always keep exercising if you do get sick. If you’ve got a cold with a stuffy nose, scratchy throat and sneezing, being physically active usually helps clear your sinuses and makes you feel better. However, if you’ve got a hacking chest cough, chills, or intestinal –distress) without a fever, it may be best NOT to exhaust yourself. You can and we advise you to exercise but not to exhaustion.   If you have a fever, exercise can raise your temperature further and risk making you dehydrated, so cool it, keep walking, but  stay home.  Finally, if you have diarrhea or are vomiting, but you aren’t spending your whole day on the throne, drink something like Gatorade or Powerade, and exercise near a throne at home. And remember, do not spread your illness—try to exercise alone if you are in the early (non-recovery) stages of any illness that you can transmit.  And alcohol down all equipment.
Todd Townes - Sharecare Fitness Expert
Todd Townes - Sharecare Fitness Expert on behalf of Sharecare Fitness
Fitness
answer

If your symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, sneezing, sore throat) then yes you can continue with low intensity workouts.  If your symptoms are below the neck (diarrhea, intense coughing, vomiting, fever) then you should let your illness run its course before resuming exercise.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.