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Illness and Exercise: When Should You Avoid It?

Should you exercise when sick?

While there is no doubt that exercise plays an important role in health, many people wonder if working out while sick will help or hinder their recovery. Exercise is a healthy habit, and it’s normal to want to continue working out, even when you’re feeling under the weather. This can be perfectly fine in certain situations but also detrimental if you are experiencing certain symptoms.


When It’s Okay to Exercise

Many experts use the “above the neck” rule when advising patients on whether to continue working out while sick. According to this theory, if you are only experiencing symptoms that are above your neck, such as a stuffy nose, sneezing or an earache, you’re probably ok to engage in exercise

Mild Cold

Though symptoms vary from person to person, most people who have a cold experience a stuffy nose, headache, sneezing and mild cough.


An earache is a sharp, dull or burning pain that can be located in one or both ears. Working out with an earache is considered safe, as long as your sense of balance is not affected and an infection has been ruled out.

Stuffy Nose

If it’s associated with a fever or other symptoms like a productive cough or chest congestion, you should consider taking some time off from working out, however it’s ok to work out if you are only experiencing some nasal congestion since getting some exercise may help open up your nasal passages, helping you breathe better.

Mild Sore Throat

If you are experiencing a mild sore throat working out is likely safe however, when your sore throat is associated with a fever, productive cough or difficulty swallowing, you should put exercise on hold.

Ultimately, listening to your body to determine if you feel well enough to exercise is paramount but it’s most likely ok to work out when you are experiencing a mild cold, earache, stuffy nose or sore throat, as long as you aren’t experiencing more serious symptoms. Although, if you feel that you lack the energy to get through your normal routine, consider reducing the intensity of your workout or shortening its duration.

When Exercise Is Not Recommended


Fevers can cause unpleasant symptoms like weakness, dehydration, muscle aches and loss of appetite. Working out while you’re feverish increases the risk of dehydration and can make a fever worse.

Productive or Frequent Cough

While a cough associated with a tickle in the throat isn’t a reason to skip the gym, a more persistent cough can be a sign you need to rest. A persistent cough can make it difficult to take a deep breath, particularly when your heart rate rises during exercise. This makes you more likely to become short of breath and fatigued.

Stomach Bug

Diarrhea and vomiting put you at risk of dehydration, which physical activity worsens so if you are feeling restless during a stomach illness, light stretching or yoga at home are the safest options.

Flu Symptoms

Although not every person who gets the flu will experience a fever, those who do are at an increased risk of dehydration, making working out a bad idea.

The Bottom Line

As symptoms subside, gradually begin introducing more physical activity into your day, being careful not to overdo it. On your first day back to the gym, begin with a low-intensity, shorter workout and be sure to hydrate with water while exercising. Remember, your body may be feeling weak and to stay healthy and safe when you’re sick, it is always best to listen to your body and follow your doctor’s advice.


Caley 2019

This post was written by Dr Caley Olesen.
You can find out more about Caley here or book an appointment with her here .
Alternatively, you can contact the clinic on 03 9908 2844.

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