HealthAgenda

Physical Health

Is it okay to exercise when you’re sick?

If you’re feeling unwell, is it alright to work out, or should you rest until you’re better? We asked a sports medicine expert for their advice. 

Helen Foster 
January 2018

Doing a weights session or a spin class can be draining when you’re sick. So should you push on or pull back? What will be better for your health? And are there any risks?

First, if you don’t want to work out while you’re ill, then don’t. While moderate exercise does help boost general immunity, exercising when you’re sick won’t help you recover faster.

In fact, when a 2003 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared 2 groups of people with a cold – 1 doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week and 1 resting – there was no difference as to how long they were ill for.

Am I too sick to work out?

If you’re keen to keep up your fitness regimen but aren’t sure whether you should, there’s 1 general rule to follow: avoid exercise if you have a temperature over 38°C. When you have a fever, your body can’t regulate its temperature effectively and you may lose more fluid than normal, leading to dehydration.

Sports doctor and GP Dr Gill Cowen says fever is also thought to reduce endurance and muscle strength while increasing fatigue – the combination of which may increase your risk of injury.

Getting the green light

If your symptoms are only above the neck – sneezing or a mild sore throat without a fever – it’s probably okay to exercise sensibly. Take it easy for the first 10-15 minutes and, if you don’t feel any worse, keep going, says Dr Cowen. “But keep your workout mild to moderate in intensity and duration.”

In other words, no high-intensity sessions, avoid runs of more than 60 minutes and skip heavy weights.

When to opt for a fitness-free day

If you have more widespread symptoms, you should take the day off.

“If, for example, you have muscle pains, diarrhoea, vomiting or a racing heart at rest, we usually advise against exercise until symptoms have resolved,” says Dr Cowen.

“This avoids worsening dehydration, risk of heat illness or increased load on your already-stressed cardiovascular system. It also avoids transmitting infections like stomach upsets to others [if you’re training in a gym].”

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