Is Exercising While Sick Considered Safe?

By:    Published: November 15, 2011

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Getting sick can throw off just about everything in your normal routine, from how you sleep to how you eat to how you work. However, many people find one of the biggest challenges while being sick to stopping their exercise routine. In addition to worrying about fitness and weight, some people genuinely miss the great feeling they get after a good workout. So, should you exercise when you’re sick? Since the answer varies on a case-by-case basis, read the following article to find out whether you’re okay to work out while under the weather.

What to Consider

The best way to know whether it is safe for you to work out is to evaluate what symptoms you have. Make a list of all of the symptoms you’re currently feeling. If all of your symptoms are “above the neck,” then you should be able to continue exercising. These symptoms, which are typically associated with the common cold, include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing or sniffling
  • Sore, dry or scratchy throat
  • Loss of voice
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches

If your symptoms include anything “below the neck” – like a fever,  widespread muscle aches, chest congestion, hacking cough or upset stomach – you shouldn’t exercise until you’re feeling well again. These could be symptoms of a more serious illness like the flu or bronchitis, and exercising may only make your sickness worse.

Potential Results

In general, the biggest concern with working out while being sick is whether the exercise will make you feel better or worse. The good news is that exercising when you’re sick can make you feel better, but it depends on what type of sickness you have. If you are experiencing nasal problems or congestion from a cold, exercise can help open up your nasal passages and relieve that congestion, even if only temporarily. According to CNN Health, many experts do promote exercise for those who have typical cold symptoms due to the relief from some of the associated symptoms of the illness.

However, it is important to remember that just because you fall into the category where your symptoms are “above the neck” doesn’t mean that exercise will definitely relieve your symptoms. For instance, some people have so much congestion when they have a cold that it becomes more difficult to breathe while exercising. Additionally, some people with a cold may feel light-headed or sleepy, especially after taking medication, which could make it harder to get a good workout in.

It’s also important to touch on the potential injuries a person can sustain if they try to exercise while sick. Your body and your reflexes are not typically at the top of their game when you are sick, which increases your risk of injuring yourself while trying to work out. In addition, you may, feel exhausted or lacking in focus, and since it only takes one misstep to get injured, this could create unsafe conditions for working out. Be sure to evaluate your physical and mental state thoroughly before exercising while sick.

Safe Exercise Options

Even if you’re okay to work out because your symptoms are mostly “above the neck,” you should still be very cautious when exercising while sick. No matter what the circumstances, there is still a chance that you could injure yourself or make yourself feel worse, so the best exercise method is to start off slowly and cut back on how long you work out.

If you normally go for a run, take a brisk walk instead. If you can keep the walk up for a while without feeling fatigued or your symptoms worsening, bring it up to a light jog. Additionally, cut back your regular exercise time to at least 75 percent of what you normally do. This gradual progression can apply to any type of workout – just make sure you start off with minimal effort and exertion and then slowly increase the intensity, staying very aware of your symptoms and physical state throughout the exercise. Then, cut the exercise short of what your normal routine is to avoid exhaustion.

If at any point you feel lightheaded, exhausted or that your symptoms are beginning to get worse, take a break from your exercise. If you feel better after a few minutes of rest, continue exercising at a moderate pace. If you don’t start to feel better, or if you start to feel even worse, stop working out for the day. Take a day off and try again later.

If you’re unsure about whether you should try working out while you’re sick, talk to your doctor. They can give you a more complete diagnosis and let you know if you’re okay to exercise. Additionally, they may be able to give you good suggestions for low-intensity workouts that are best for people who are getting over a cold or other non-serious illness, such as walking, jogging, water aerobics or stationary cycling.

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