Should You Exercise If You Are Sick?

No one likes to get sick. But, depending on your symptoms, your illness might not actually be an excuse to slack off on your fitness routine. It’s definitely important to listen to what your body is telling you, but sometimes that can be hard to decipher. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve texted my coach to “get permission” to skip a workout when I’m feeling really tired or sick. Most of the time I know what she’s going to say, so I could probably skip that step, but sometimes you just need someone else to tell you to slow down and listen to your body.

There are definitely times when pushing through feeling kind of crappy is a good idea, but there are also times when you need to just rest until you feel better. But how do you know when you should do what?

  1. Figure out how sick you really are. This is a really important step. This is the difference between “am I just a little congested with a scratchy throat?” and “I have a fever.” If it takes all of your energy to get from the couch to the bathroom, you probably are more than just a little sick and should consider a day or two off. If taking some ibuprofen and making some hot tea makes you feel better, you are probably ok to get your workout in. Body aches are generally a sign that you are getting a fever and you should probably sit this one out. 

  2. Asses your breath. Oxygen is critical to life. Efficient breathing boosts cellular energy and as an athlete you need to be functioning on all cylinders when doing your workouts. Your muscles need a surprisingly large amount of oxygen in order to maintain energy production during a workout. A good breath test is to breathe in for a full count of ten and then out for the same. Are you light headed? Does the inhale trigger a coughing fit? If the answer is yes, it's probably a good idea to rest. 

  3. If you do exercise, train smarter not harder. The days when you are feeling less than optimal are the perfect days to choose the activity and intensity that feel good to you. If you have a hard interval session and you are still excited about it, do it. If you feel kind of tired but still want to move your body but going all out just doesn’t sound good, go for a walk or do some strength exercises at home.

  4. Consider others before going to the gym. If you aren’t feeling well, consider an at home workout. Being on the treadmill or in a group class next to someone who is sneezing or sniffling the whole time is distracting and disrespectful. Keep your germs at home! You don’t want to be the person spreading the plague around the gym because you weren’t willing to alter your routine a little, do you? If you are at the tail end of your illness and are sniffling your way through your treadmill intervals, be sure to wipe down the machine. If you are coughing up a fit, maybe choose a solo workout and skip your group fitness class.

  5. Drink lots of fluids. Hydration is important whether you are sick or not. But it is especially important when you are fighting illness. Drink plenty of water or herbal tea (no sugar) both during and after your workout.

  6. Listen to your body. Have you ever started a workout when you weren’t feeling well, gotten part of the way through, and then decided like you just couldn’t continue? It’s not worth stressing your already stressed body even more just for the sake of finishing a workout. Chances are you’ll actually do more harm than good by continuing. If you are truly sick, pushing through a workout can wear you down and cause you to get sicker. In this scenario, resting is a good idea. You don’t want to turn an illness that might have only lasted a few days into a two week ordeal.

Obviously staying well is the key to not having to figure out whether you should workout or not. But when illness start creeping in, hopefully these tips will help lead you in the right direction and do what is best for your body. Stay well!


Who am I?? I am an athlete and a Family Nurse practitioner with over eight years of clinical experience helping ordinary women cut through all the hype and figure out what actually works for their bodies. If you've ever been told by your healthcare provider that "it's all in your head" or that what you are going through is "normal," I can help! It's not all in your head and just because something is common doesn't mean it is normal.

 Schedule a free consultation so you can get started on your path to optimal health now!