Should You Exercise When Sick And Will It Help You Recover?

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Nobody likes getting sick, especially when getting sick means that you become cut off from the momentum you’ve developed in your fitness routine. If you’re thinking about skipping your workout routine because you have the sniffles, hold your horses because you might be getting worried over nothing. Turns out, certain types of exercises can actually help you heal a lot faster.


Most experts will agree that just as long as your symptoms are above the neck (i.e. colds, sore throat) you can go ahead and workout. Having symptoms below the neck (i.e. body malaise, upset stomach, aching muscles and vomiting) means that you should skip your workout.

Day 1

Most times the advice mentioned above is enough as a general rule but it does have a tendency to be overly simplistic. According Dr. John Berardi, Ph.D. of Precision Nutrition, if you have above the neck symptoms like coughing, a runny nose, or a congested nose for that matter, on your first day of illness a low intensity workout routine is recommended. If on your first day the symptoms include fever, diarrhea, malaise, vomiting and headache, you shouldn’t workout.

Day 2

On your second day of illness, an absence of fever and malaise with no progression of symptoms means that you can participate in light exercise like yoga and Tai chi. An increase in intensity of below the neck symptoms and a marked increase in body temperature means that you should probably rest.

Day 3

When you start feeling better, on the third day of illness you may go ahead and do moderate intensity exercises – if the symptoms continue to subside you can return to your regular workout routine 24 hours after the fourth day of illness. If on the third day of illness, the symptoms do not start to get better you must consult your family physician immediately.

Based on this information it seems that fever is the real limiting factor and experts agree. According to Dr. Lewis Maharam MD, a city-based sports medicine expert, the dangers of working out with a fever are in the further increase of an already high body temperature. You have to remember that heat, whether it is body heat or from an external source, can adulterate proteins such as your muscles and the enzymes that run the show over at the endocrine system.


When it comes to recovering from a sickness, not all workouts are created equal. In fact some types of exercises are so bad that they could have adverse affects on your immune system, albeit temporary.


Low impact exercise and short bursts of vigorous exercise have a neutral effect on your immune defenses. So although they’re not likely to cause you to lose tremendous amounts of weight or improve your body dramatically, it doesn’t really do any harm either.


Moderate exercise seems to be the most helpful. In most benchmarks of health, moderate exercise always turns out to be the best option. It has been linked to increased cardiovascular health, lower levels of cholesterol, healthy blood sugar levels, and now even increased immunity. One of the reasons why experts prefer moderate exercise instead of intense exercise is because it is easier for patients to stick to it, and when it comes to health, consistency is key.

The benefits of moderate exercise are instantaneous – your immunity gets an automatic boost right after the workout. Chronic resistance training has been found to increase your innate immunity, the physical and chemical defenses you were born with. Chronic moderate exercise on the other hand increases your adaptive immunity or the immunity you develop from being exposed to pathogens, like in vaccinations for example.


Ever wonder why you almost always catch a cold when starting out a workout program that is a little bit too high intensity for you? Well, you are not alone. It seems counterintuitive, but high intensity exercise can do more harm than good, especially in the immunity department. In fact, some studies have shown a decrease in the number of white blood cells after a research participant is subjected to high intensity exercise. This is bad news for marathon runners and other endurance sports athletes, who by the nature of their sport are continuously working their bodies to levels that are counterproductive.


You may exercise even when you are sick just as long as the symptoms are not severe and are limited to areas above the neck only. Working out with a fever is a complete no-no.

Also, only moderate workout seems to have a positive effect on the recovery process and on your immune system. The positive effects however are both short-term and long-term.