You’ve been working out or going to the gym consistently, finally built a routine and on track for your goals–then all of a sudden you start to feel run down and before you know it–you’ve caught a cold.
You don’t want to veer off your routine (or your goals for that matter), but you wonder if you should hold off, so as not to make it worse.
How do you know if you should workout when you’re sick?
Exercise a Cold; Rest a Fever
The answer depends on the type of illness and ultimately how you’re feeling. Obviously things have changed at the turn of the pandemic, with extra caution being recommended before deciding to visit a public gym when you're feeling sick. That doesn't mean however that you couldn't do your own home workout instead of going to the gym.
The rule of thumb, according to experts at WebMD.com is to do “what you can, and if you can’t do it, then don’t.” Listen to your body.
Experts definitely advise against working out with a fever. This makes sense because exercising can raise your body temperature dangerously higher and make you feel significantly worse. If you have chest tightness where it’s difficult to breathe, or if you’re so weak you can’t even get out of bed, then it’s probably a better idea to rest and wait it off than to work out.
On the other hand, if you have a mild cold with nasal congestion, or a mild sore throat, then physical activity is probably OK and might even help to temporarily clear your sinuses. At the same time, you should consider decreasing the intensity and length of your workout. For example, go for a walk instead of a run. Or you could try a regenerative activity like yoga or Pilates instead. Why is this?
Doing some exercise during a cold while knowing your limits can help to boost your immune system and recover faster. Regular physical activity has definitely been documented to boost immunity and help reduce the number of colds you get each year. It does this by increasing the number and aggressiveness of specific immune cells which help to defend the body against cold-causing intruders.
Taking it down a notch is advised because your regular exercise routine (depending on what that is) could be too stressful on the body when you have a cold. It can actually have the reverse effect. Instead of boosting your immune system, it can stress your body even more and cause you to feel worse (or prolong your illness). Similar effects have been shown in elite athletes who train so hard it actually ends up lowering their defense system, allowing them to get sick more often than not.
Listen to your body respect your limits. Don’t force it. If you have a fixed workout routine, it may be hard to pass on exercise, but know that a few missed days of training are not likely to affect your overall performance.
- Mann D. Exercising when sick: A good move? Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center, WebMD. October 2007. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/exercising-when-sick
- Exercise and the common cold. Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center, WebMD. June 2012. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/exercise-when-you-have-cold
- Laskowski ER. Is it OK to exercise if I have a cold? Fitness, Healthy Lifestyle, Mayo Clinic. March 2014. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20058494
By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian