Exercising While Sick: To Skip or Sweat it Out?

This year, winter is becoming spring in a particularly erratic fashion. Rather than being decidedly cool one day, and decidedly warm the next, we’ve had several false starts where we happily declare one warm morning Officially Springtime, only to get blasted with a snowstorm the next day.

This indecisive weather can wreak havoc on our immune systems, leaving us with nasty colds, annoying flus, or good old-fashioned stomach bugs - all of which can wreak havoc on our workout routine. But does that persistent sniffle mean you should sweat it out, or skip it altogether? Check out our guidelines for working out with illness.

  • First of all, the above-the-neck rule. Generally, if all your symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, scratchy eyes, headache), then the worst outcome of your workout will be the possibility of infecting your running buddy. Feel free to hit the road - just keep your water bottle to yourself.

  • Conversely, if your symptoms are below the neck (stomachache, chest congestion or chills), or worsen significantly after a preliminary workout, sit this one out. Forcing yourself to exercise with these symptoms can extend your illness time, ultimately delaying your workout routine even more. Hydrate and sleep and you’ll be up and running ASAP.

  • One notable exception to the “above the neck” rule - fever. When you’ve got a fever of over 100 degrees fahrenheit, your body is already overheated. Further stressing it out with exercise can worsen your illness significantly.

  • Consider taking advantage of a less intensive exercise option. Trade your power walk for a yoga session, or a gentle jog as opposed to a round of grueling HIIT. Most people who are locked into a routine can actually derive positive benefits from continuing exercise through light illness, but this isn’t the time to be shooting for those personal records.

  • Whether you opt for a light workout or something in pace with your regular routine, remember to listen to your body. Be sure to dress in layers, and warm up and stretch for even longer than you would usually. Your body is constantly feeding you signs of how it’s doing, so if you take a lap and find yourself wheezing or lightheaded, there’s no shame in heading back to bed. If you're in doubt, sit this one out.

We're hoping that all of you have easy, healthy transitions as winter finally (finally!) turns into spring. But if the worst should come to pass, just remember to take stock of your symptoms, take it easy if you need to, and you’ll be back at it in no time.


Sources & Further Information:
CNN - Are you crazy for working out while sick?
WebMD - Exercising When Sick
Men's Fitness - Should You Work Out While Sick?

Cecilia Winter