Is Working Out While Sick Safe?

Working out while sick may help you feel better, but is it safe? We’ve all struggled with that question, but some considerations are essential. The general rule is that exercise is safe if your symptoms are “above the neck,” such as a light headache and a runny or stuffy nose. 

Still, you’ll want to dial back the intensity of your workouts. For example, try walking if you usually run. You might lift light dumbbells at home instead of barbells at the gym.

Remember, your health comes first. Suppose you’re experiencing ‘below-the-neck’ symptoms like chest congestion, nausea, and vomiting. In that case, it’s crucial to take a break from your exercise routine and focus on resting. This is especially true if you have a fever. Give your body the care and rest it needs to recover. Knowing that rest is a vital part of he healing process.

When To Avoid or Minimise Exercise While Sick 

Empower yourself with the ‘neck rule’ to make informed decisions about exercising while sick. This simple guideline divides your body into two sections: above and below your neck, helping you determine the safety of your workout.

Avoiding exercise if you have below-the-neck symptoms like:

  • Chest congestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you have a fever, regardless of the cause, this is a sign to avoid exercise, too. Exercising with a fever can pose serious risks to your health, so it’s crucial to be cautious and refrain from physical activity.

When It’s Safe To Exercise 

In contrast, you may be able to exercise if your symptoms occur above the neck. For example, exercising with a head cold is generally safe.

Above-the-neck symptoms, as with a head cold, may include:

  • Dry coughing
  • Light headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat

N.B. Consider refraining from physical activity if you have a wet cough or coughing that brings up mucus. Research has found that wet coughing occurs most often with bacterial infections in the lower respiratory tract, like pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia usually produces more severe symptoms than other types. Getting plenty of rest helps you feel better and reduces complications.

Be prepared to reduce the intensity of your workouts even if you have a mild head cold. For example, opt for a recovery workout; if you lift weights in the gym, consider working out at 50% of your typical load and reduce the repetitions.

Be prepared to stop exercising immediately if you experience dizziness, significantly elevated heart rate, palpitations, or breathing difficulties during exercise. 

How Long To Wait Before Working Out Again 

When you’re on the road to recovery, you must be cautious when returning to your exercise routine. Experts generally recommend waiting until an infection has fully cleared before resuming exercise. This caution is critical to avoiding complications and ensuring a smooth recovery.

Some evidence suggests that working out while sick, especially with a fever, may lead to complications like:

  • Coordination problems
  • Heart concerns
  • Loss of muscle enduranceĀ and strength
  • Spreading germs that make others sick
  • Worsening illness

Once your symptoms have resolved after five days, it is advisable to resume normal activities, including exercise.

You may lose some physical strength while you are ill. Gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts helps avoid complications and injuries. 

Sharon Tomkins

Sharon is a New Zealand qualified Health Coach and Personal Trainer, as well as an ICF Certified Coach and Accredited Coaching Supervisor. Sharon was awarded the 'Health & Wellness Coach of the Year' 2022, by The Health Coaches Australia & New Zealand Association.
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