Exercising When Sick: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

By Pat Frock

The answer depends on what ails you. For example, exercising with a cold may be OK, but if you’ve got a fever, hitting the gym is a definite no-no.

Fever is the limiting factor, says Lewis G. Maharam, MD, a New York City-based sports medicine expert. “The danger is exercising and raising your body temperature internally if you already have a fever, because that can make you even sicker,” he tells WebMD. If you have a fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, sit this one out.

Maharam’s rule of thumb for exercising when sick? “Do what you can do, and if you can’t do it, then don’t,” he says. “Most people who are fit tend to feel worse if they stop their exercise, but if you have got a bad case of the flu and can’t lift your head off the pillow, then chances are you won’t want to go run around the block.”

The general rule is that if it is just a little sniffle and you take some medications and don’t feel so sick, it’s OK to work out. But if you have any bronchial tightness, it’s not advisable to be training.

You really need to know your limits. If you are feeling kind of bad, you may want to consider a walk instead of a run. Take the intensity down or do a regenerative activity like yoga or Pilates because if you don’t feel great, it may not be the best day to do your sprints. This is not the time to be trying to set any one rep maxes on the deadlift platform.

A neck check is a way to determine your level of activity during a respiratory illness. If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and tearing eyes, then it’s OK to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever, and fatigue, then it’s time to hang up the running shoes or barbells until these symptoms subside.

One thing is for sure, if you show up sick at your local health club you can be sure that your fellow gym goers are not going to be happy about it.