Should You Exercise When You're Sick?

Friday, February 7, 2020, in Wellness, Injury by

Unwell? Battling another cold? Feeling run down? If you want to shake off the winter bug, regular exercise may be the ultimate immunity-booster. But the question is, how hard should you push yourself? Should You Exercise When Sick?

We are exposed to bacteria and viruses all day long, but some people seem more susceptible to catching colds or the flu. According to Healthdirect Australia, the average adult gets two to three colds or upper respiratory infections each year.

When it comes to exercise and immunity, we know that regular aerobic-based activity at a moderate-intensity (think brisk walking or a light jog) could stimulate the immune system and reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections. Research also shows that resistance-type training has similar effects. Although scientist are not exactly clear how the immune system is boosted, it is believed that exercise promotes good circulation, which allows the immune cells to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Check yourself before you wreck yourself!



On the contrary to exercising at a moderate pace, the opposite is true for very prolonged bouts of exercise (think marathon training). Strenuous exercise or periods of intensified training with insufficient recovery may dampen immune function – a theory known as the ‘open window’ during which viruses and bacteria can gain a foothold, increasing the risk of developing an infection.

However, new research questions the wide spread belief. A study published in journal of Frontiers in Immunology believe that the immune system is not suppressed (as previously believed), instead the immune cells migrate to other parts of the body, looking for other infections (e.g. chest or lungs), representing an immune boost, making it less likely for infections to flourish – so there is no need to put off going to the gym or throw in your fitness towel.

That doesn’t mean you’ll never catch a cold again if you’re an avid gym-goer. Not enough shut-eye, poor diet, and psychological stress increase susceptibility of getting sick. Let’s not forget, poor hygiene (e.g. hand washing), sharing water bottles and sweaty towels also ramp up the infection risk, too.




Your nose is runny: There is no need to starve a cold of exercise. Keep up your workout but turn the intensity down a notch. Go for a walk or do yoga instead of treadmill running on an incline.

Your temp is high: Now is the time to listen to your body and get some much need rest. Intervals from the bed to the kitchen for cups of tea is highly recommend at this stage until fever subsides.

It’s more than a common cold: If you’re experiencing widespread fatigue or muscles and joint aches, stay indoors to avoid spreading (especially if you’re contagious). Once the aches ease off, ease back into exercising gradually, but avoid pushing yourself too hard too soon to make up for lost time.


The bottom line? Of course, the best case scenario would be avoid getting sick in the first place. Thankfully there are a number of things you can do to help ward off those annoying infections:

  • Eat a well balanced diet

  • Keep hydrated

  • Manage stress

  • Get enough sleep (7-8 hours a night)

  • Practice good hygiene – hand washing, stay away from sick people

  • Exercise regularly, but avoid overtraining.

Kathleen is a trusted health expert in the field of nutrition and fitness. She is an exercise physiologist and nutritionist, author and founder of The Right Balance. Follow Kathleen on Instagram and Twitter, or get in touch: [email protected]

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