Should you exercise when sick?
Updated: Jun 1
As the cold and flu season is upon us, many of you will, unfortunately, get sick this winter, and will be wondering if it’s a good idea to skip or complete a workout.
Whilst exercise can benefit the immune system, hard training can suppress immune function, leaving you susceptible to opportunistic infections. Getting sick and missing weeks of training due to an illness is a real setback for any athlete. So should you push on & train, or rest up & recover?
Whilst there is no rule that fits everyone and every instance, a simple rule is the “neck check”
“The neck check”
If it's in the neck and above (throat and head) then you can do light to moderate-intensity exercise, but if below the neck it's best to rest.
So you can generally exercise when you are suffering from:
mild sore throat
runny or stuffy nose
With minor illness, light exercise can actually enhance the immune system and shorten the duration of your illness.
Best to avoid exercise when below the neck with symptoms such as:
fatigue and tiredness
congestion or tight chest
high temperature / fever
When should you return to exercise post-illness?
It is best to wait for 1 day after any below-the-neck symptoms have resolved before resuming training. The first day of training post-illness should be a light session (recovery pace run/ride, or reduce weights in the gym). Continue to train at a recovery pace until all above-the-neck symptoms disappear.
If any symptoms start to return, then cease training and rest, as trying to resume too early can prolong recovery.
Additional tips when returning to exercise post-illness:
Focus on recovery post-exercise: sleep is key!
Just remember that when you are unwell you are contagious, so consider your teammates/training partners, I’m pretty sure they don’t want to fall sick
Avoid strenuous cardio exercise in the cold air, as this can aggravate your lungs and airways
Ensure adequate hydration
Supplementing a nutritious diet with Vitamin C, Zinc and probiotics may assist your immune system in fighting the infection
Listen to your body! If it doesn’t feel right to be exercising, then rest!