Should You Exercise While Sick?

Ah the age old question. As I am coming off of a hefty head cold that has knocked me down for about 10 days, I thought this would be a very appropriate article for now – hence the lack of posting recently!

Alright – so you have managed to pick up a bug and are now feeling pretty icky, but you wonder if you should continue with your exercise regime. First of all, you need to consider your symptoms. Dr. Thomas Weidner of Ball State University recommends performing a “neck check,” meaning, consider where your symptoms are. If your symptoms are located in the neck and above – more of a head cold, then low-moderate intensity exercise shouldn’t have a negative effect on the length and severity of your cold. If your symptoms are however “below the neck,” meaning they include symptoms such as chest congestion, hacking cough, body aches, chills, fever, upset stomach or diarrhea, then consider resting instead of exercise as it can increase the level of stress that your body is currently under and possible intensify your illness.

While exercising with above neck symptoms likely won’t make your cold worse, it also won’t make it better as Dr. Weidners research shows, however there is evidence showing that exercising may make you feel temporarily better and alleviate symptoms transiently. Just be mindful of how intense you are exercising. Low-moderate intensity exercise has been shown to be ok, but high intensity exercise has been shown to increase symptoms of illness and prolong the healing process in the literature. Lighten up your load if you do choose to exercise and listen to your body. A light walk can be a great way to boost energy and to unclog the sinuses. In the end it is a personal decision and completely at your discretion. If you are unsure about your symptoms, be sure to see your family doctor.

Evidence shows that exercise in general (ie. while you are not sick) can promote immunity against viruses and is a great way to prevent illness. Just another reason why we should exercise regularily.

Remember though, if you do decide to exercise, perhaps avoid the gym so that you aren’t spreading your germs on the equipment. Choose an outdoor activity or a home exercise program and help to prevent the spread of the cold and flu virus.