Exercising When You’re Sick

Exercising when you’re sick. I know, it’s probably the absolute last thing you want to do when you’re feeling ill. But getting up and moving could help you feel better faster. Who doesn’t want that?

A lot of die hard runners or fitness enthusiasts would much rather sweat it out than lay on the couch all day resting. Assuming you don’t have a full-on fever; there really isn’t any harm in getting your body moving. Instead of completely skipping your workout, scale the intensity of it. Try a slow easy run versus a interval speed day; hop on the elliptical to get your body moving, and treat your workout like active recovery; or head out for a brisk walk.

Every person’s body will respond to illness and exercise differently, and it’s absolutely key to listen to your own body. I have to admit, as I was further researching this topic, I came across a lot of recommendations that differ from my own person experience.   

I’ll give you the cliff notes version from my research:
(1) A Cold: Totally fine but might need to scale back.
(2) Stomach Bug: Not ok due to lack of hydration from potential vomiting and diarrhea. 
(3) Flu or Fever: Bad idea because now you’re splitting your body’s energy sources between fighting off a virus and exercising. 

Thankfully, I don’t get sick very often. I attribute that to a healthy nutritious diet, plenty of regular exercise, usually getting at least 7 hours of sleep, and my daily glass of OJ with pulp (aka lots of Vitamin C)! Having said that, I have had three different experiences over the past year that have left me questioning whether I should continue with my planned workout or not. And here’s where my experience has differed from above:

(1) Last January I was weeks away from my second marathon. It’s a long story, but I got really sick (like throw-up sick) from a medicine I was taking. I obviously stopped the medicine right away, but it still took a few days for it to get completely out of my system and for me to feel better. Right in the middle of all this I had a 23-mile long run scheduled. Being so close to the marathon I couldn’t skip my workout. I had a major dilemma on my hand– I didn’t want to get off the couch, and I absolutely didn’t want to eat anything because I was nauseous; so how was I going to consume enough calories to get through a 23-mile long run? I’ll spare you all the details, but I ended up doing the run. It was slower and less intense than maybe it should have been at that point in my training; but I finished it, and to be completely honest, once I got moving I actually started to feel better. 

(2) Then last month I was sick again; although this time I’m pretty sure it was food poisoning. We were supposed to go on a hike with friends that day. I didn’t think it wise to be miles from a bathroom, so we skipped the hike. I knew that I would probably feel better if I got moving so instead I did a workout on the elliptical and, if I remember correctly, we went on a short bike ride to run an errand too. 

(3) Most recently, this past week I was sick. Being flu season, it was most likely something viral. I felt crappy and had a very minor fever early on. Throughout the week I was sick, I exercised at varying levels every day– from yoga, to elliptical, to walking on the treadmill. I’m finally feeling myself again today after a 10-mile run. 

In some ways my experiences follow the advice I found during my research, but in other ways they severely differ. I know that I feel worse if I lay around all day. Even if I’m just going for a walk, I know that it will help me feel better. I’m obviously not a doctor 🙂 but I wanted to share with you my personal experience with exercising while sick, as well as the common advice found online so that you can make an informed decision that best fits your body.  

I think ultimately it comes down to listening to your body. You know your body better than anyone else, you know how much you can handle, and you know the difference your body feels when you’re really sick or just so-so sick. The most important thing to remember when considering exercise when your sick is to make sure you stay hydrated.

I hope all of you make it through cold and flu season unscathed and can easily continue your normal health and fitness routine.

So tell me– what to you do when you’re sick? Do you continue your normal level of intensity, back it off, or rest completely?


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