Should You Exercise When You’re Sick? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on March 27, 2014

Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

To run or not to run. That is the question. 

If you exercise regularly (and kudos to you if you do!), you’ve probably encountered this problem before: You’re supposed to run a half hour on the treadmill, but you’re feeling under the weather. As a result, you’re not sure if you should go to the gym or stay home and rest.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to resolve the issue.

A good rule of thumb to determine if you can continue with your workout is by performing the “neck check.” If your symptoms are above the neck, such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing and/or teary eyes, you’re good to go. However, if your symptoms are below the neck and include coughing, body aches and/or fatigue, you’re better off staying home and enjoying a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Another sign that you’re in no condition to work out is if you have a fever that’s 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you were to exercise with a fever or below-the-neck symptoms, you might end up increasing your body temperature (resulting in a higher fever) and extending your illness. 

Jess Lowy, M.S., NSCA-CPT, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer at the Healthplex® Sports Club at Springfield Hospital, says, “When you’re feeling under the weather and if exercise is still possible, be sure to keep the intensity low so as not to burn yourself out. Pushing the limits when you’re not feeling well may cause your condition to get worse and extend the time you need to recover, causing you to miss even more workouts. Don’t overdo it — every good workout should be accompanied by the proper amount of rest before your next one.”

If you’re only experiencing some common cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, there are some things you should know before hitting the gym. Since you’re not feeling your best, acknowledge your limits and only do what you can. Instead of running, for example, you may want to walk. By reducing the intensity and duration of your typical workout, you can help prevent yourself from feeling worse later on. Opt for activities such as yoga or Pilates, which can provide a great workout but also rejuvenate your body.

Exercise might even help relieve nasal congestion, too, so you may feel better as a result. And as you start regaining your strength, you can begin gradually increasing your exercise routine.

If you do go to the gym to get a workout in, make sure you follow proper gym etiquette to prevent spreading germs to others. Use a towel and wipe down every surface you touch before and after using equipment. Also, carry hand sanitizer with you just in case you need to quickly clean your hands. 

Of course, the best way to avoid this scenario altogether is to prevent getting sick in the first place. Wash your hands before and after using the bathroom and after using public transportation. You should also wash your hands before eating and after returning home from work — you never know what you might pick up during the day.

The Healthplex has an entire staff of professionally certified and college degreed personal trainers who can assess your exercise level and provide you with valuable feedback to ensure you are spending your workout time safely, efficiently and effectively. For membership information about the Healthplex call (610) 328-8888 or visit

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