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April 1, 2019 | Happenings, Health Advice

Sick? Should You Still Work Out?

Keeping your commitment to exercise is important. However, you just caught your co-worker’s cold. Should you still work out?

A lot of the time, exercise can make us feel better when we’re under the weather. However, it can also delay recovery in some instances. How do you know when to work out and when to rest?

The “Above the Neck” Rule

One rule that health professionals use is the “above the neck” rule. This rule means that if all of your symptoms are above the neck – runny nose, sneezing, headache or mild sore throat – then you should feel comfortable continuing your routine. If you have any symptoms lower down, such as a cough or chest congestion, then you should rest. If you are having any difficulty breathing you should also relax. It’s generally okay to exercise with an earache unless it is affecting your balance.


If you have a high temperature or fever, then you should not try to exercise. Working out raises your body temperature, which can cause problems if your ability to maintain a constant temperature is already impaired. Animal studies show that strenuous exercise with a fever can worsen the illness and in extreme cases, it could be fatal. Fever also decreases your precision and coordination, which can lead to injury.


If you suspect you have the flu, do not exercise. Exercising with the flu (or lung infection) can cause myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart. Symptoms include chest pain, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and fatigue. If you experience these symptoms while working out when sick, you need to contact your doctor immediately. Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, a headache around and behind the eyes, and loss of smell.

Stomach Flu

Gastroenteritis or “stomach flu” should also preclude any strenuous exercise; it will make your symptoms worse, last longer and will leave you dehydrated. You should not exercise until you’re on the road to recovery. Bear in mind that anything that affects your ability to digest food can leave you without enough “fuel” for your workout.

Are You Contagious?

If you have something contagious, you should consider skipping group practices and do lower intensity workouts at home rather than the gym. Even if you think you aren’t contagious anymore, be sure to wash your hands first, use hand sanitizer, and be extra careful about wiping off equipment. Do not share towels or water bottles. Remember that you can still be contagious even after you’re feeling better, so continue to take precautions after you return.

Do You Feel Up To It?

Finally, listen to your body. Exercising with a mild cold may make you feel better and can help clear your sinuses. However, if you feel fatigued, you should probably stay in bed. You can also drop the intensity of your workout to a more comfortable level. Consider walking instead of running, lower the amount you lift, etc. Limit exercise intensity to the point at which you can still have a conversation.

If you are in doubt about whether you should work out or when you can return to your regular exercise routine, talk to your doctor. Don’t worry about performance loss for a short illness. It takes about three weeks to start to get “out of shape,” and most people recover from the flu in two or less weeks. Your doctor may also have advice on specific exercises you can do to feel better faster.

To schedule an appointment or if you have any other health-related questions that you’d like to address, please call us today at 715-531-6800. Hudson Physicians is here to help!