Should I Workout If I’m Sick?

It’s that time of year where people are coming down with the flu, colds, allergies, and all the sniffles, sneezes, aches, and pains that you wish you never had.

So what do you do when you want to hit the gym or go for a run, but you’re coming down with something?

Every case will be different, but I usually say that if it’s above the neck and not contagious, you may workout with a lower intensity than normal. Meanwhile, anything below the neck, especially fevers and aches, deserve rest.

When we workout, we’re causing micro stresses on the body. When we’re healthy, we can dedicate our immune system to repairing the “damage” done during a workout to grow stronger and more resilient. This is called a hormetic stress response and is a good thing, usually.

If your body is fighting off an infection, it might need all of its resources to push those buggers out of your system. That’s why you develop a runny nose and cough – your body signals your cells to get the intruding pathogens out of the body away from vital organs like your lungs. Even a fever is biologically good because heat increases chemical reactions and theoretically should speed up the recovery time (bringing you back to high school chemistry here!)

Let me give you a real life example. Right now, I actually have a runny nose and scratchy throat from allergies. My sinuses are blown up and although I’m coughing, I’m not contagious. So if I wanted to workout, I would do so, but at 70% or so intensity so I didn’t wreck myself.

If I had a fever and/or aches and pains, I would lay low, especially while contagious. Doing so will allow my immune system to do its thing and not get distracted with trying to repair micro tears from working out.

At the end of the day, missing a few workouts will not derail your entire year. Listen to your body and make an informed decision for both yourself and fellow classmates.

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