Should I Exercise When I am Sick?

Posted by on February 8, 2013

Health Fitness SpecialistContributed by Kirk Lewis, Health Fitness Specialist Program Chair, Minnesota School of Business – Plymouth

Winter is cold and flu season.  We are spending more time indoors and exercise takes more of an effort.  Everyday, someone is sick – at work, at home, at school.  When you are under the weather, what happens to your exercise routine?  Should you exercise or take a nap?

Researchers and exercise physiologists have known for years that exercise, while providing other benefits, boosts your immune response.  So, exercise is a good thing.  However, caution should be taken depending on “where” your sickness lies and what symptoms you may be experiencing. Here are some guidelines to follow.

  • Above the Neck?  If you are experiencing upper respiratory symptoms (i.e. runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, or sore throat…etc.), you are probably OK to exercise. Another way to look at it is….are your symptoms “above the neck”. However, depending on the severity of the above symptoms you may want to reduce your intensity a bit.
  • Below the Neck?  If you are experiencing lower respiratory symptoms (i.e. bronchitis or lung infection, hacking cough…etc.), it would be wise to abstain from exercise until your symptoms clear up.

Why does it matter? In general, with an upper respiratory infection gas exchange (oxygen in and carbon dioxide out) in the lungs is not limited. While a lower respiratory infection, often associated with fluid buildup in the lungs, can limit gas exchange.

  • Fever, Fatigue, Muscle Weakness?: These symptoms are “systemic” meaning throughout the entire body. Because the entire body is affected and stressed, adding the extra stress of exercise may not be prudent.

Gradually resume your normal exercise routine as you begin to feel better. And always check with your doctor regarding any significant changes in your health.


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