Should You Exercise When Sick?

Working out while sick might seem like a terrible idea, but taking a few days off can seem daunting when you have a great fitness routine. So, do you have to miss out on your daily run just because you have a cold? Not necessarily.

Exercising While Sick: Yes or No?

Should you exercise when sick? As with so many health-related questions, the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what type of illness you have, where the body is being affected, and of course, how you feel.

Exercising when sick can mean going for a run with a bit of a sniffle or trying to lift your next weight goal with a severely upset stomach. It goes without saying (hopefully) that the former is probably possible while the latter is unwise indeed!

A “head cold” or upper respiratory infection is usually a viral issue that will make you feel pretty ill for a couple of days. However, they’re not usually dangerous, and symptoms typically stop a runny nose, headache, and perhaps a very minor fever. You can treat a head cold with:

  • Painkillers
  • Fluids
  • Healthy foods

Bearing in mind that none of these kill the virus, they just make you feel better while your body deals with it.

Anything below the neck can have a more profound effect on the body and be harder to treat. Examples include:

  • Chest infections
  • UTIs
  • Diarrhea/vomiting
  • A more serious fever
  • Body aches or chills

A severe cough can also hamper exercise. You should always seek medical assistance for any persistent cough, particularly if it’s productive (bringing up mucus or other fluid), as this could be a sign of bacterial infection.

exercise when sick

Working Out With a Cold

Exercising with a cold is grim when you have a runny nose to contend with. Stopping every few seconds to wipe really breaks up any workout regime.

So, should you work out with a cold? Well, as we’ve seen already, any symptoms that are just in the nose or throat are usually mild enough to allow you to carry on exercising. However, there are some key points to make sure you don’t make yourself worse:

  • Stay hydrated – always important, but even more so when you’re leaking from your nose.
  • Have a good stock of tissues and dispose of them properly.
  • Keep your hands clean.
  • Work out at home, so you’re not spreading your germs on shared gym equipment. If you share gym equipment at home, clean it well, or let your fitness-buddies know which items you’ve touched so that they can avoid those fitness tools for a few days.
  • Eat foods high in protein, carbs, and vitamin C to help cell recovery. Mediterranean foods like pasta dishes with plenty of tomato and meat or beans are ideal.

Can You Sweat Out a Cold?

Some people like to exercise with a cold because they believe that the additional physical activity will allow them to “sweat it out.”

This is a myth.

Viruses cause cold, and you cannot sweat out a virus, no matter how active you are. Your immune system will deal with it, and you will feel back to normal anywhere between three and ten days after the onset of symptoms, depending on how nasty the virus is.

That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy gentle exercise and stay healthy while your body kicks out the cold.

Running While Sick

Running is one of our top workout activities, with 20 to 24% of Americans under the age of 49 running regularly.

Running with an upset stomach isn’t a great idea, as you may find yourself too far from a handy bathroom when an emergency strikes. However, going for a run with a cold shouldn’t do you any harm.

Take a small backpack with you packed with a drink, a snack, and plenty of tissues. Maybe shorten your route or do laps of a short path near your home, in case you start to feel worse. Take a device packed with your favorite music to help you stay motivated.

exercising while sick

Exercises to Do When Sick

If you still want to exercise when sick, here are some gentle exercises that help you stay active without overstraining your body.

  •         Go for a walk. Walking increases stamina, plus it’s a great way to discover your local area.
  •         Practice Qi Gong or Tai Chi for strength, improved heart health, and mindfulness.
  •         Switch from sprinting to gentler but longer distance running.
  •         Learn a few yoga poses to help fight the extra cortisol produced while sick.
  •         Dance: low impact dance classes or videos can help boost your immune system and mood.

Avoid high impact exercises, and maybe knock the strength exercises on the head until you’re on the mend. Additional pressure from weights can worsen a headache, so if you have to lift, reduce the weight level for a few days.

Exercising while sick is very much a personal choice. Never push yourself too far, but with care and attention to your own needs and limits, you can stay active during many forms of illness. Listen to your body, and if in doubt, talk to your doctor.


Should you exercise with a cold? Should you work out when sick? It depends on how sick you are, what type of illness you have, and how you feel as an individual. Look at ways to stay active when feeling under the weather and when you should simply rest.




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