Putting a Workout on Hold to Recover from Illness is Often a Better Choice


Exercise has many, many health benefits including helping the immune system fight off simple bacterial and viral infections. But if you have succumbed to the latest cold or flu bug, should you continue to push through it or should you take a rest day?

Kinesiology professor Karin Richards at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia says that working out while under the weather can actually do more harm than good for those looking to shed a few pounds and adopt a healthier lifestyle. The key to whether you should work out or not depends upon the location of your symptoms.

“Those who experience above the neck symptoms such as stuffy noses and sneezing are generally fine to continue their exercise routine,” she says. “However, those with symptoms below the neck such as a fever, nausea, and muscle aches are urged to stay in bed and recover.”


Another thing to remember, even with a minor illness is that the body is stressed when fighting any infections, so the additional stress that intense exercise causes only suppresses the immune system even more.

Those who choose to work out during a minor illness, however, are urged NOT to go to their favorite fitness center. “The flu is easily spread in these types of environments,” says Richards.

Instead, follow the following advice:
• Take it easy: Lower the intensity of a regular workout. If you usually run, for example, take as slower paced walk.
• Stretch out: Yoga poses and gentle stretches can help relieve congestion and pressure.
• It is especially important when you are ill to ensure good hydration. The nasal drainage associated with colds can hasten dehydration, and some over-the-counter cold remedies containing antihistamines (many cough syrups, for instance) can dry you out further, Dr. Rosenbaum points out
• Remember that taking a day (or two) off is not a giant setback in our routine. An uncomplicated cold in an adult should be totally gone in about seven days, says Neil Schachter MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York

One of the best preventative measures to avoid sickness is staying active year-round. . "Thirty minutes of regular exercise three to four times a week has been shown to raise immunity by raising levels of T cells, which are one of the body's first defenses against infection,” notes Daryl Rosenbaum MD, director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “However, intense 90-minute training sessions like those done by elite athletes can actually lower immunity."

University of the Sciences: Exercising While Sick Can Do More Harm than Good
National Institutes of Health: Exercise and Immunity
CNN: Too Sick to Workout