Exercise And Illness: Can You Exercise When You're Sick?

When it is OK (and when it's not) to work out.
We all know that exercise is vital for good health and it's something we should aim to do on a regular basis. But what about those days when you're feeling under the weather? Can you continue working out anyway or should you take a temporary break?

As a general rule it's okay to exercise if your symptoms are all "above the neck", says Keith Veselik, MD, director of primary care at Loyola University Health System, meaning symptoms you may have with the garden-variety cold, such as runny nose or a sore throat. Just be careful not to overdo it. If you aren't feeling well, but still want to exercise, reduce the intensity and length of your workout.

However, if you have the following symptoms, exercise is a no-no because it could be dangerous:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath or chest congestion
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or light-headedness when you stand up

Another point to consider is any pre-existing medical condition you may have. For example, for individuals with a heart condition or diabetes, exercising while sick can add extra stress to their body which could be dangerous. If you do have a medical condition and are not sure if you should exercise while sick, Veselik advises checking with your doctor first.

If you do decide to exercise while sick...

  • Take it easy. Cut back on the length and intensity of your workout.
  • Ensure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially after exercise.
  • Avoid spreading the germs. Go for a solo walk or jog instead of joining an exercise class or basketball game.
  • Wipe down machines at the gym. "You never know who was using it before you," says Veselik.

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