Written By Emily White

Should You or Shouldn't You Exercise When Sick?

Physical exercise or a regular workout routine can adversely affect your overall health in a positive way. Numerous studies reveal that regular or daily workout tends to improve and strengthen our immune system. Our immune system, being our first defence mechanism, then has the ability to protect us from viruses and bacteria.

The professor of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, David Neiman, bears testament to the above fact. According to him, physical activity increases the circulation of immune cells around the body. Hence, the correlation between exercise and the immune system.

Other than strengthening our immune system, exercise increases our energy levels. Moreover, it helps us build more lean muscle and improve our cognitive health. Essentially, physical activity is key to improving the quality of our lives. 

Maybe you're already aware of this and have been hitting the treadmill regularly. Yet, what should we do when we get sick? Should we continue with our daily or regular exercise routine or take a break and rest instead? Surely, resting should help us recover faster, right?

Well, all these are valid questions. For the purposes of this article, we shall be addressing the issue: should one exercise when sick? Let us take a look. 

Type of Illness

Whether you should exercise or not when sick depends on the type of illness. According to  Lewis G. Maharam, MD, it is okay to exercise when all you are suffering from is a mild cold. In other words, if the symptoms of your illness are all above the neck, you can exercise.

David Neiman, professor of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University confirms the above fact. According to him, symptoms such as a sore throat, sneezing and nasal congestion should not interfere with your normal workout routine. Even a sinus infection is nothing to worry about when it comes to exercising.

However, David Neiman continues to state that exercising whilst experiencing these symptoms won't really benefit us in any way. In other words, you won't worsen or improve your condition by exercising.

Please note, that if you experience any other symptoms that are beyond the neck, you should refrain from exercising.  The Sports medicine expert, Lewis G. Maharam, states that a fever is a limiting factor to physical exercise. If you've got a bad case of the flu and high fever, the best thing to do is stay at home and recuperate.

Exercising while you have a fever is extremely dangerous. When a person physically exerts themselves, it is only normal for the body temperature to rise. Raising your body temperature when you already have a fever will only make your condition worse.

Also, do not exercise if you're symptoms are occurring below the neck. Such symptoms include chest congestion, upset stomach, muscle aches and so forth.

Type of Exercise

The type of exercise should also be determined when it comes to exercising when sick. There are different types of exercises that render different results. Some fall under high-intensity exercises, while others fall under low-intensity exercises.

High-intensity exercising is often designed to increase our heart rate and cause us to sweat effectively. This then causes our body to respond to the stress caused by the physical activity.

When we are sick, our body's immune system is compromised. Hence, we are not able to deal with the effects of a vigorous exercise as we normally would. Instead, our sickly body's are unable to effectively respond to the stress, making our state of health worse.

Medical practitioners and experts advise individuals to instead take part in low-intensity workouts. Such workouts, also termed as non- strenuous exercises, are less stressful and less exerting. Such exercises include:

  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Stretching
  • Cleaning
  • Fishing
  • Bicycling for short distances

There are numerous ways of taking part in a less strenuous form of exercise or physical activity. Lower both the intensity and duration of your workout. Be careful as you do so. The last thing you want to do is make your condition worse.

So, why should we avoid high-intensity workouts when we are sick. Below, are some of the reasons why.

Vigorous exercises that along in terms of duration tend to suppress our immune system for a few hours. This means, that in those few hours, we are susceptible to pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.

High-intensity exercises seem to have an impact on both our innate and adaptive immune system. It can either strengthen or weaken the innate or adaptive immune system. A very important point to consider when we seek to engage in physical activity.

That said let us summarize on the above-mentioned facts. Below, are a few rules to keep in mind when it comes to exercising when sick.

You can exercise if you are experiencing symptoms that are above the neck.

If you can exercise, ensure that you engage in low- intensity workouts that are less strenuous on the body. Shorten the duration of exercise as well. Essentially, keep it short and simple.

Avoid exercising if you are experiencing symptoms that are below the neck. Such symptoms include coughing and muscle aches.

Do not exercise if have a bad case of the flu and high fever. Exercising will only make your condition worse, instead of better.

If you feel that you are up to exercising even while sick, consult your doctor first. If he/ she gives you the green light, then you may proceed. When in doubt, the general rule of thumb is to seek medical advice and assistance.

In conclusion, you can only exercise if you are experiencing symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion. However, if you are experiencing far more severe symptoms and ailments, you are advised to recuperate at home.  If you can exercise, keep it simple and very short. Do not overexert yourself.