Is it OK to exercise when you are sick?

By Dr. Dan Van Roon • February 28th, 2013

If your symptoms are above your neck, it’s usually ok to exercise, albeit at a lower intensity than you’re used to. This includes symptoms such as:

Runny nose
Nasal congestion
Sneezing
Sore throat
Headache

If you have enough energy to tolerate it, increasing your body temperature by sweating from exercise will actually help to kill many viruses. In fact, according to research, exercising with a cold may be well advised. At the end of one 10-day trial, those who exercised 40 minutes every-other day, at 70 percent of their maximum heart rate, felt better than those who remained sedentary—even though the clinical severity and duration of their symptoms were virtually identical.

Over-exercising will place more stress on your body, which can suppress your immune system, so you should keep the intensity of your workouts on a moderate level if you’re sick. So, you might just go for a brisk walk if you are coming down with a cold, or simply tone down your regular workout. As noted in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: “Prolonged intense exercise causes immunosuppression, whereas moderate-intensity exercise improves immune function and potentially reduces risk and severity of respiratory viral infections.”

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