Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?


It’s the time of year where everyone gets sick with something, whether it’s the flu, a sore throat, a sinus cold or just a case of the sniffles. It’s inevitable, and no matter how vigilant you were about getting your flu shot and how good you are about washing your hands, germs outnumber you by roughly a trillion (at least).

Now, when I get sick, I live in a state of denial. I convince myself that it’s mind over matter and that if I act normal, my cold will somehow realize that it’s not welcome in my body and promptly exit the building. I go about my day as usual, until it comes time for my workout- and then, I’m at a loss.

Conventional wisdom might say that if you’re sick, you should stay horizontal and rest as much as possible. But let’s face it, a lot of us are stubborn, stir-crazy and just plain annoyed at the thought of having to sit still for days in a row. So, can you work out while you’re sick?

In a nutshell: it depends. Here’s how it breaks down:

If you have a fever…

Sorry, it’s a forced rest day. When your body temperature is already high, raising it even more through exercise could really hurt you. In this case, there’s no truth to “sweating out a fever.”

If you have the sniffles…

Go ahead and head to your favorite class if it’s a minor case of the sniffles. Take some medicine beforehand, drink plenty of water and don’t forget to wipe down everything you use afterwards so you don’t get fellow gym-goers sick.

If your chest feels tight…

Sit it out. Any shortness of breath you get during exercise will only be exacerbated, and you don’t want to risk anything that could affect your breathing.

If you have a sinus cold and your symptoms are mostly in your head…

You’re probably okay for some low-key cardio. In fact, the adrenaline you get from exercise can provide a temporary respite from your symptoms, because it contracts your blood vessels and might decrease swelling in your sinuses.

With a sinus infection, you might also try some yoga poses to help your symptoms. Cat-cow, child’s pose, knee to chest, and lying down twist might feel nice.

If you have an upset stomach…

No. Nope. No. Go back to the couch and don’t try to be a hero.

If you feel something coming on in the next few days…

You’re probably okay to exercise as normal. Just listen to your body and if you don’t feel like you can hit that last 10mph treadmill sprint, don’t force it.


In general, a good rule of thumb to follow is the above/below the neck rule. If your symptoms are above the neck (sniffles, sinus congestion, or a dry cough), you’re cleared to exercise as long as you listen to your body and don’t overdo it. If your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, muscle aches, fatigue, or an upset stomach), stay out of the gym and focus on getting better.

If you do choose to work out while not feeling 100, follow these general guidelines: drink tons of water. Wash your hands frequently before and after your workout, and wipe down everything you touch at the gym thoroughly. Trade out high-intensity training for something gentler on your body, like low-intensity steady state cardio, yoga, or Pilates. And the second you start to feel off, end your workout and see if a nice, hot shower does the trick instead. Above all else, talk to your doctor before deciding whether you should work out while you’re under the weather.

Your winter cold may be inevitable, but if your symptoms are light, it doesn’t have to ruin your life. Just please, try not to get the rest of us sick.

Let us know!

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.