Should I Exercise When I Am Sick? 

Posted September 13, 2022 in Health, Medical No Comments »
this athlete should have asked, 'should I exercise when I am sick?'

Exercise has many benefits and works wonders for your body.  Regular exercise can lead to major health improvements, reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer, and even prevent diabetes from happening in the first place.  In trying to stick to your routine at all costs, you might ask yourself, ‘should I exercise when I am sick?‘ The answer to that question is complicated so we have to consider several factors including the type of illness you’re experiencing.

There are two sides to this question, and both have merits depending on your situation. While some would say there’s no reason not to exercise if you’re ill, arguments against it can be valid depending on your circumstance.  

The following article will look at both sides of the issue to help you make an informed decision on whether you should exercise when you’re sick or not.

When Should I Exercise Even If I Am Sick? 

Working out while experiencing these symptoms is probably safe, but it is best to consult your physician before doing so. Let’s discuss when you should exercise below: 

• Sore Throat

It is usually caused by an infection like the common cold or flu. When your sore throat is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, coughing, or difficulty swallowing, you should put exercise on hold until a doctor tells you it’s OK to resume your workouts.  

However, working out is likely safe if you’re experiencing a mild sore throat caused by something like a  common cold or allergies. If you’re experiencing other symptoms often associated with a common cold—such as fatigue and congestion—consider reducing the intensity of your normal exercise routine. 

Reducing the duration of your workout is one way to modify your activity level when you are feeling well enough for some exercise but not at your best. Staying hydrated with cool water is one way to soothe a  sore throat during exercise so you can add physical activity to your day. 

• Mild Cold

Mild colds are an illness caused by viruses that infect the nasal passage and throat. Symptoms differ depending on individual experiences, but common ones include sneezing, stuffy noses, headaches, and a  mild cough. 

Given recent events such as COVID-19 (found in some vaccines), many doctors recommend staying inside when possible for those with a chronic illness (though there is not enough evidence to show whether this particular virus can be transmitted via working out). 

If you’re feeling unenergetic due to your condition, reduce the intensity of your activity or shorten its duration; though generally speaking, one can exercise with a mild cold without too much risk of harm.

However, limiting contact with others is advised if you catch other people’s diseases often due to poor hygiene habits (such as frequent hand washing). 

• Stuffy Nose 

Working out with a cold or sinus infection might be tough on your lungs, but it’s OK. Exercising might help open up nasal passages and make you feel better. Ultimately, figuring out whether you can do light exercise. At the same time, being sick comes down to weighing your symptoms against how healthy you are otherwise. 

A way around this dilemma is modifying workouts that normally involve rigorous movements into lighter exercises—such as brisk walking or biking. When the COVID pandemic hit, it was clear that people should avoid going to gyms when they’re ill.  

But if your nose is stuffy, skip anything too intense—unless it feels appropriate. Please pay attention to how much effort it takes for you to take deep breaths and remember what feels right, given how bad your cold is. 

If you are experiencing abnormal physical symptoms like a fever or coughing, take a break from working out until they subside. 

• Mild Earache

Earache is a sharp burning pain affecting one or both ears. Children are often afflicted with an earache due to an infection, but for adults, the pain is more likely to occur elsewhere, such as in the throat.  

A few reasons we may experience ear pain due to sinus infection, a sore throat, or a tooth infection. But if someone has an ear infection, they should stop exercising because it can cause imbalance and lead to fever and other symptoms that make working out unsafe.  

Though exercise may be safe during earaches, it is best to avoid strenuous activity that puts pressure on the sinuses. Instead, opt for a low-impact workout such as light walking.  

Even simple tasks such as bending over are typically uncomfortable for someone with sinusitis, so stay off your feet and rest!  

tips for exercising when sick

When To Completely Avoid Exercise

While it is usually fine to work out when you have a mild cold or earache, there are certain situations  where it would be best not to exercise, like: 

• Fever 

When someone has a fever, their body temperature can rise to heights of up to 103°F (39°C) or more.  Many things can cause this, but most commonly is triggered by an infection such as a virus or bacteria.  Fevers can lead to unpleasant symptoms like exhaustion, dehydration, aching muscles, and a loss of appetite. 

If you work out while you are feverish, there is an increased risk of dehydration, worsening the condition. Moreover, having a fever reduces your muscle strength and endurance and impairs coordination, so there is an increased risk of injury. 

For these reasons, it’s best to avoid the gym with a fever. 

• Frequent Cough 

Coughing in and of itself is an ordinary response to allergens or other allergens in the respiratory tract;  coughing allows the human body to stay healthy.  Nonetheless, a more persistent coughing episode could be symptomatic of a respiratory illness such as a  cold, flu, or pneumonia.  

A mild tickling sensation does not mean you should skip going to the gym; however, resting is recommended if your cough persists.  Even though a dry and sporadic cough will not impede your ability to complete certain exercises, having constant and forceful coughs means you should put off working out for now.  

If prolonged coughing interferes with breathing, this could lead to overexertion and exhaustion – especially during periods of high stress from intense workouts. Avoid working out when you have a cough, as you’re exposing other people at the gym to your germs from an illness. 

Moreover, coughing has been deemed one of the main ways people transmit diseases like the flu virus,  which leads to COVID-19 infections. 

• Upset Stomach 

Illnesses like the stomach flu affect the body’s digestive system, causing serious symptoms that make working out impossible. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, stomach cramps, and decreased appetites are all common symptoms of a stomach bug.  

Diarrhea and vomiting leave you vulnerable to dehydration, which causes physical activity worsens.  Feeling weak is also likely when suffering from an intestinal illness, which increases your chance of injury while exercising. And if you’re feeling restless during a stomach illness – light stretching or yoga at home are your best bet. 

Final Thoughts

If you are an avid gym-goer you will inevitably find yourself asking, ‘should I exercise when I am sick?‘, so hopefully you have some answers now to make an educated decision based on your symptoms.

When experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, a fever, or productive cough, it’s best to rest your body and take some time off from the gym to recover. Take a rest day or even a rest week if needed. The recovery time will only make you stronger and healthier.

Of course, if you’re only experiencing mild cold symptoms or nasal congestion, there’s no need to put away your gym gear – make sure not to exercise in any enclosed public places like gyms (unless they’re outdoors). 

When sickly, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re suffering from a simple virus or something more severe. Playing it safe is safest when you don’t feel 100%.  

If feeling up-to-par but lacking energy at the end of a workout session, try lowering intensity/duration next time instead of cutting exercise completely.

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