Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?

Both my husband and I started out the New Year being sick, no fun at all.  Thankfully, I don’t get sick very often, and when I do, it is usually quick and/or mild.  Nonetheless, I always struggle with the question of whether or not I should exercise when I am sick. Like many topics in health and fitness, it is a debated topic with arguments supporting both sides.

THEORY SUPPORTING EXERCISING WHILE SICK.  Many reliable sources claim that exercising while mildly sick is acceptable, as long as you feel well enough to do it.  Those who support the theory claim that exercise boosts the immune system, helps keep your lungs and cardiovascular system working efficiently (getting nutrients and oxygen to the body cells quicker), and will help you recover faster.  I can buy all that.  Makes sense.

THEORY SUPPORTING AVOIDANCE OF EXERCISE WHILE SICK.  Other reliable sources claim that exercise, though it does boost immune system overall, won’t make a difference in the course of a few days.  In addition, exercise requires a lot of energy and resources.  When you are sick, you need rest so that your body can use its resources and energy to fight off the infection, and since so much energy is required to maintain exercise, when you exercise you are taking energy away from the immune system to support your activity, thus not effectively fighting the infection and prolonging the illness.  I can buy that, too.

This is why I struggle with this concept, because both theories make sense.  I should take the time to really research this topic, but until then, I tend to favor the argument that exercise is not a good thing to do while sick, at least not during the worst of the sickness.  However, if you simply have the sniffles or are recovering from an illness I do not see the harm in exercising.  Maybe take a few days off to fight the infection and then once feeling well enough to go about your daily routine, get back to exercising.  In addition, it may be a good idea to do lighter exercise until the infection and symptoms have passed.

About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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