Is Working Out While You’re Sick Safe?

by | Updated: February 20th, 2018 | Read time: 3 minutes

You’re finally getting into your new workout routine after the holidays, and — BAM — you’re hit with a cold, or worse, the flu. To work out or not to work out? That is the question.

Of course, prevention is the best medicine — exercising and eating well, along with taking supplements, help to boost your immune system naturally to fight off illnesses — but unfortunately, sickness is just inevitable sometimes. The good news is that exercising regularly may cut sick time in half. It also can’t be mentioned enough to wash hands often, keep hands away from your face, wipe down gym equipment and carry hand sanitizer in your gym bag.

If, after your best efforts, you still catch a bug, use this guide to decide whether you should head to the gym or sit this one out. And always consult a physician with any questions or concerns.

Tired Woman on Workout Bench with Water Bottle |

When it’s okay to exercise


  • Congested or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

Basically, if you have a cold with symptoms above the neck, you’re okay to work out. Having these symptoms may cause you to feel sluggish (due to restless nights), but you can still head to the gym.

When dealing with a head cold, just drop the intensity and duration of your workout, and a couple of days after symptoms are gone, you can resume your regular workout. While exercising, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and try using a saline nasal spray to help thin mucus so you can breathe better.

Good news: Basic colds in adults last only about seven days, at which point you can get back to your normal workout routine.

Good, low-intensity workout options: 30 minutes of walking, biking, swimming, jogging, yoga class

Workouts to avoid: heavy strength training, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), endurance sports  

Remember that if you decide to exercise when not feeling your best, you need to wipe off machines and mats after working out to keep from spreading germs.

When to hold off on working out


  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle/joint aches
  • Coughing with chest congestion
  • Extremely low energy

Now, if your symptoms are below the neck, then it’s time to take a break from your workouts. When you’re running a fever, that’s your body’s way of fighting an infection. Being sick with a high temperature pulls moisture from your body, so adding exercise and raising your body temperature even more can become dangerous and make you sicker.

The flu can make you feel pretty bad for about 10 days up to 2 weeks, so this is where the no-excuse rule for working out can be ignored. Stay in bed, rest and eat chicken soup. Wait until your fever has been gone at least 24 hours before exercising around others. The flu is highly contagious and can spread to others up to seven days after your symptoms begin.

The flu can take a lot out of you, so start back slowly with your workouts and don’t get discouraged. It may take a couple of weeks back at the gym to fully regain your strength.