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Is It OK to Work out While Sick?

    When you get sick, you may worry that the illness will throw you off your training routine. While common sense tells you to stay in bed and give your body time to recover, you don’t want to lose any body mass due to halted routines. So, should you work out when you’re sick or just stay in bed?

    Performing the neck check can help you decide if you can work out. If you have symptoms above the neck, such as a runny nose, mild headache, or minor cough, exercise is ok. But symptoms you have under your neck, such as body ache, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, mean you should stay home.

    Read on to learn more about the factors that determine your ability to work out while you’re not at your best. You’ll also learn about tips to consider while working out when you’re sick.

    When Can You Work out?

    When you get sick, you can’t wait to go back to the gym to avoid getting off track and start losing your muscles. You may also think that by working out, you can sweat out germs and viruses. But the idea of running out the illness through sweating doesn’t have a scientific basis.

    The answer to the question of whether you can work out while you’re sick doesn’t have a definite yes or no answer. That’s because your illness and symptoms determine your ability to work out.

    Regardless of your illness, there’s a basic rule of thumb that experts suggest to see you should skip gym or not. According to the “neck check” rule, if your symptoms are above your neck, you’ll be Ok doing exercise. 

    For example, a runny nose, a mild headache, or an earache can’t be limiting factors, and exercise may even help alleviate these symptoms.

    On the other hand, symptoms below the neck, including backache, nausea, or diarrhea, worsen by doing exercise.

    Here are some common situations when you can work out. But it’s always safe to check with your doctor first.

    Mild Cold

    When you have a mild cold, you’ll experience headaches, a stuffed or runny nose, cough, or sneezing. The key in working out under these conditions is to look at how you feel; whether you have enough energy or coughing doesn’t get in the way of your workout.

    Another thing to consider is that since a cold is a viral infection, you may spread the illness to others. So, it’s better to keep away from others and train solo.

    Also, try to keep it on the mellow side both in terms of duration and intensity of your exercise. You don’t want to strain your body, which is already busy fighting infections.

    The same thing goes with a sore throat; you can do low-intensity workouts if you have a mild infection without fatigue or productive coughing.

    Stuffy Nose

    Working out with a stuffy nose depends on the severity of congestion. If it makes you uncomfortable and makes you unable to breathe, it may be better to skip the gym. That’s particularly the case when you have other symptoms like chest congestion or coughing with mucus or phlegm.

    But if it’s mild nasal congestion, the raised blood circulation can help clear your nose and sinuses.

    When Can’t You Work out?

    You may experience some symptoms when you’re sick, which requires putting your workout on hold until you get better. Here are some of them:


    A fever is one of the most important symptoms that makes workouts a definite no-no. When you have a fever, your body temperature is above the normal range. The same thing happens when you exercise. 

    So, you don’t want to worsen your symptoms by raising your temperature any further. Plus, fever may cause other symptoms such as dehydration, weakness, loss of appetite, and muscle pain.

    Working out with fever may worsen your dehydration problem and increase the risk of injury due to decreased muscle strength.  So, wait a few days until your fever has gone, and then resume your training routine.

    Food Poisoning or Stomach Flu

    While food poisoning and stomach flu have different reasons, they have some common symptoms. Vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea are common symptoms of the two sicknesses.

    Again, diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, which gets worsened by exercise. Plus, doing physical activities despite feeling weak is the perfect recipe for injury.

    Productive Cough

    As mentioned earlier, not every cough can be the reason to skip the gym. Occasional, dry coughs usually don’t indicate a serious problem and can’t get in the way of your breathing.

    However, a persistent, productive cough may cause difficulties in breathing, especially when your heart rate is up. As a result, you’ll feel more fatigued because you can’t breathe deeply.

    Other than the symptoms mentioned above, here are other things that make working out off-limits:

    • Chills;
    • Severe headache;
    • Chest congestion;
    • High heart rate at rest.

    What Exercises Can You Do While You’re Sick?

    If you decide to work out when you’re sick, make sure to adjust the intensity levels to avoid further injury and putting your body under pressure. Keep it short, no more than 20 minutes, to reap the benefits of working out like reducing stress, increasing energy, and improving your mood. So, focus on light and movement-based activities and increase the blood circulation in your body without putting your body under pressure.

    These activities can be:


    One of the best exercises you can do when you’re under the weather is yoga. When your body is fighting infections, it releases cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Doing yoga can relax your body and regulate cortisol levels, eventually boosting your immunity. Plus, you can relieve pains and aches caused by cold.


    However, remember to stay on the light side by making moves like child pose or legs up the wall. Adding the meditative “om” can also help clear your clogged nose and nasal passages.


    As a form of cardio training, swimming can help you boost energy and clear congestion. But it depends on your symptoms and your swimming moves’ intensity.

    For example, if you have a stuffy nose, it may be difficult to breathe, or the chlorine in the water irritates your sinuses.


    Walking is another good activity that can help clear your sinuses and open up your airways by taking deeps breaths.

    Walking for 20 minutes can help you reap the benefits of working out without putting your body under stress. But if it’s cold outside, you may want to skip walking and focus on indoor activities.


    The most important benefit of dancing for your body is reducing stress levels. Like yoga, it can reduce your cortisol levels and help your body recover faster.

    It’s also a type of aerobic activity that can clear sinuses by making you breathe deeply. Any dancing activity can help, but Zumba is one of the best.

    However, avoid strenuous exercises to give your body enough time to recover. They may include:

    • HIIT training
    • Weight lifting
    • Running
    • Hot yoga
    • Pilates
    • Team sports

    General Tips

    Whatever exercise you choose to do while you’re sick, remember these points:

    Drink Enough Water

    You must have heard that you should drink lots of fluids when you have a sickness like the common cold. 

    Keeping your body hydrated is key to exercising while your body is trying to fight infections. Your body needs lots of water to flush out toxins, and sweating can lead to dehydration. Drinking water can also help you relieve symptoms like a sore throat. 

    What’s more, don’t forget to replenish your electrolyte levels lost through sweating and a runny nose. Drink broth, sports drinks, or coconut water to restore electrolyte salts.

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    Listen to Your Body

    Despite all the points we said, everything depends on how your body reacts. Even if you feel alright before working out, your body may send you signals that you should reduce the intensity or stop working out. Never ignore these signs and resist the temptation to keep working out to avoid throwing off your routine.

    The whole point of working out is keeping your body strong, and you can achieve it by putting your body under strain.

    Eat a Healthy Diet

    The importance of a balanced diet in helping the body recover can’t be stressed enough. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, avoid sugar and processed foods, and eat healthy fats.

    If you think you need supplements to help boost your immune system, consult your doctor.

    Can Exercise Make You Feel Well?

    There’s no denying that exercise can boost your immune system, protecting you from getting sick and reducing the intensity and frequency of your ailments. You can rely on your workout routine to flush bacteria out of your body or increase the number of white blood cells to fight diseases.

    A recent study has found that appropriate levels of exercise can help ward off the coronavirus and reduce the severity of infection and mortality rates.

    Even older people can benefit from regular exercise and fight the negative effects of aging on their immune systems. Conversely, sedentary people are at risk of higher infections and diseases due to reduced immunity responses.

    But the amount and intensity of exercise also matter. Studies have shown that moderate exercise can boost the immune system, while intense physical activities can put you at higher risks of getting ill.

    In Summary

    Although working out can help boost your immune system, it’s not always helpful when your body isn’t up to it. The symptoms determine if you can hit the gym or just hit the pillows when you’re sick.

    The key is to avoid straining your body and giving it a chance to recover, even if it means you put off going to the gym until you feel well.

    Always listen to what your body tells you and stop your workout as soon as you feel it’s under pressure. 

    Last update on 2022-10-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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