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September 15, 2020

What you need to know about working out while sick

Fitness Illness

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Woman running on treadmill with sneakers Magda Ehlers/

Is a runny nose enough to stop you from working out? What about a fever? Most people don’t disrupt their exercise schedule for a cold, but there are some important things to know about when you should—and shouldn’t—work out while sick.

Before getting into specific points to consider, let’s start with the most obvious one: staying hydrated. Hydration is important any time you’re working out, but it’s even more important when you’re under the weather because a runny nose, slight fever, and other symptoms of illness can speed dehydration. So, grab a glass of water, and read on.

Should I work out at all?

Not all sicknesses are equal. As a general rule of thumb, if you feel well enough to physically exert yourself, you can work out even if you have the sniffles, a headache, or other symptoms.

The exception? If you have a fever. Any time you spike a fever, it’s best to skip your workout and rest. Despite urban myths, you can’t “sweat out” an illness (although working out in healthier times does boost the immune system). So if you have a fever, just get back into bed. If your symptoms are isolated above the neck (sore throat, runny nose, puffy eyes, etc.) it’s probably safe to work out. If they’re more widespread—body aches, coughing, fatigue—take a pass.

Adjust your routine

Fighting illness is hard work for your body. Exerting yourself can actually make it harder to fight off illness as your body expends resources on exercise. Depending on how sick you’re feeling, tailor the workout to your current level of fitness. It might make sense to go for a walk instead of a run, for example, or pass on lifting weights in favor of a Pilates class.

Even with an adjusted routine, pay attention to your symptoms. As mentioned, you may dehydrate faster than usual, requiring more frequent breaks. Be aware of any dizziness or fatigue that might onset quickly and make elements of your workout unsafe.

Be courteous

If you’re feeling sick, be courteous of others and skip the close proximity of the gym altogether. Remember that others share equipment with you and your illness may be contagious. Instead, opt for a run or body weight workout in the park or in the comfort of your home.

Finally, allow extra time for recovery. Your body won’t bounce back from a workout the way it usually does when you’re sick, so give it an extra day or two before working out again. Spend those extra days resting and paying closer attention than usual to your diet to fight through the illness and get back into your normal workout shape.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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