When You’re Sick…Work Out or Rest?

This past week I have been down for the count. A total snot making machine (seriously, I’ve thought more than once how I wish I could somehow monetize on all the snot coming out of my body!). The first half of it I had zero energy and the worst headache to go along with whatever bug I’d seem to have caught from Grayson’s preschool. Finally, the air cleared. I got my energy back, finally!


But here’s the question….when do you push through and still get your work out in and when do you let your body rest? Both can be important- you don’t want your excuses to give in and skip workouts for no good reason…but on the other hand, if you don’t let your body rest when you need it, you’ll stay sick even longer.

Exercise, by all means, is a stress to the body. When we’re healthy, our bodies can handle the stress, and adapt to that stress. This is a good thing! It’s how we get fit, healthier, and stronger.

But when we’re sick, the body can’t handle the same amount of stress and it becomes just that- added stress.

So let’s take a look.

When you CAN still work out:

  • If you have a mild cold but still have your energy.
  • If your symptoms are above the neck- sore throat, sneezing, nasal congestion
  • Runny nose

If you can, work out at home. Nobody wants your cold!

Skip the gym and REST if:

  • You have a fever. Elevating your temperature even more will make you sicker. Rule of thumb is 101 degrees or higher.
  • If your symptoms are below the neck- coughing, fatigue, or body aches.
  • You’re throwing up or….troubles with the opposite end.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Working out in extreme temperatures


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When it comes time to decide and you opt to workout, try taking it a little easier. Instead of an intense kickboxing class or heavy lift session, go for a walk or practice yoga. Go easier on yourself. Move your body in a low intensity setting.

The amount of time you exercise can affect your immune system! Studies show that exercise sessions of approximately 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week can raise your immunity, while more intense sessions around 90 minutes can actually lower your immune system.

Consistent moderate exercise can strengthen your immune system over time, so hard sessions are great when you’re healthy. 

Interestingly enough, a study cited by Precision Nutrition found this result with studying exercise and influenza:

  • People who never exercised got sick pretty often.
  • People who exercised between once a month and three times a week did the best.
  • People who exercised more than four times a week got sick most often.

We don’t have to live in the gym to be either fit nor healthy. We endure plenty of other types of stress in our life (work, relationships, finances, poor lifestyle choices, etc) that can add up much more than we think. All of these factors, as insignificant as they seem, play a small role in lowering our immune system. By working out intensely when we’re sick, we just add to the problem- forget those abs. You won’t lose your progress in the gym by skipping a couple workouts. Not in the long run.


Use your intuition and own perceived level of exertion. If you’re miserable, stop exercising and go turn on netflix. If you’re fine to walk or stretch, do it. Just remember to wash your hands and clean off all the equipment well if you hit the gym after all!

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