Exercising When Sick: Pro et Contra

Most people believe that exercising when sick can contribute to illness progression. However, it’s not always the case. Don’t let minor colds destroy your workout session: let’s find out when exercising if sick is even beneficial, and when you should put away your running shoes for a little while.

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When exercising if sick is beneficial

In some cases, workouts are not only allowed, but also beneficial. Your runny nose and nasal congestion can be alleviated by exercising. It can help you open nasal passages, and it will get easier to breathe.

The general rule is if the ailing body part is above neck, you can opt for moderate physical activity. If it’s below the neck, you’d better not to exercise until you recover.

So, according to this rule, if it’s your nose that does not let you feel well, then you can go for a stroll: it is likely to help you, not harm you. Sneezing and nasal congestion also fall into this category: they should not prevent you from exercising.

It is important to remember that you can exercise only if it does not make you feel worse. The kind of physical activity you should opt for is moderate: do not try new exercises or add more weight to lift. You can go for a walk or do something else that would not raise your heart rate more than 60% of its allowed maximum. Actually, exercising at the heart rate of 110 would be fine.

Sweating can be both beneficial and harmful. On the one hand, toxins come out with sweat. On the other hand, when you are sick, you need even more water than usual. That’s why it’s necessary to drink a lot of water to rehydrate your body and help it recover.

When exercising should be avoided

According to the rule stated above, if there is something wrong with a body part that is below the neck, exercising will be a bad idea. This includes coughing, stomach issues, chest congestion, aching muscles, pain in the joints, fever, fatigue and other issues.

The “border” is your throat, and it’s difficult to say when you can exercise with sore throat, and when it is to be avoided. If the problem is minor, strolling will be enough (make sure you have a good scarf!). If you cough, and your sore throat is something to be taken seriously, then letting your body rest is a better option.

If you still want to go to the gym…

Do you know that surgical masks are NOT designed to prevent the wearer from bacteria and viruses in the air and that suspicious guy sneezing nearby? It’s a common misconception that wearing such a mask can protect you in case of epidemics. Yes, it means that thousands of people wearing masks using public transport are just wasting their money. Unless they know what these masks are really for.

Surgical masks are supposed to catch the bacteria that the wearer (!) emits when he/she speaks, sneezes, breathes, etc. So, the aim is to protect others, not the wearer. That is why surgeons use these masks – so as not to transfer bacteria from their noses and mouths to the patient.
If you want to go to the gym regardless of your runny nose and minor sore throat, you should make sure your contagious trace is as insignificant as possible.

To do it, you can wear a mask on your way to and from the gym. It may be difficult to breathe if you exercise with the mask on your face, so it is unlikely that you will decide to wear it there.

Besides, it is recommended that you wipe all surfaces of the equipment you have touched. Try to use the equipment which is as far from other people as possible.

Remember: the first three or four days are the period when the chances someone will catch a cold because of you are the highest. You can be even more responsible and opt for a stroll in the park instead of going to the gym: this way, you will have fewer chances to share your cold with someone else.


Exercising When Unwell: A Good Idea? – The WebMD materials
Upper Respiratory Tract Infection is Reduced in Physically Fit and Active Adults – British Journal of Sports Medicine 2011; 45: 987-992
Exercise and Respiratory Tract Viral Infections – Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2009 Oct; 37(4): 157–164

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