Exercising When You Are Sick

What are common illnesses?

Viruses that cause colds and flu are common. The average adult has 1 to 6 colds each year. Moderate exercise may decrease your risk getting a cold. However, too much exercise may increase your risk of getting one.

When is it OK to exercise?

Many people stay active when they have a cold. Healthcare providers may use the “neck check” to decide if you can exercise:

  • Are your symptoms only above the neck (sore throat, stuffy or runny nose)?
  • Are you symptom-free below the neck (no diarrhea, vomiting, fever, fatigue, or severe cough)?

If both of these are true, try exercising at half intensity for 10 minutes. If your symptoms are not worse, you can keep exercising. If you feel worse, you should stop.

You should not exercise when you have:

  • A fever greater than 100.5°F or 38°C (Fever affects your strength, your motor skills, how well you can focus, and how soon you tire.)
  • A lot of fatigue, muscle aches, or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe cough
  • Dehydration (caused by diarrhea, vomiting, or heavy sweating)

If you are contagious and play a team sport, wait until you are symptom-free before you return to your sport. Wash your hands often, and do not share water bottles.

After you recover from an illness, train at a moderate pace and slowly increase intensity to your pre-illness level. Increase at the rate of 1 or 2 days for each training day that you have missed.

Are there risks to exercising when I am sick?

If you exercise while you are sick, you will not perform as well. Your symptoms may take longer to go away. Some people who are sick with a virus develop heart problems that can cause sudden death. This is rare, but if you have chest pain or severe shortness of breath, get medical help right away.

How should I try to keep healthy?

  • Wash your hands often and especially after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Also wash your hands before eating or touching your eyes.
  • Avoid touching your hands to your eyes and nose.
  • Try to avoid sick people and large crowds before major competitions.
  • Get the flu vaccine.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. Avoid rapid weight loss. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions. Avoid overtraining and getting too tired.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-30
Last reviewed: 2014-06-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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