Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

by Jen on December 18, 2012

This is my least favorite season of the year.  And no, I’m not talking about winter, I’m talking about cold and flu season.  If you have young kids like me, then you are no stranger to colds and flus.  My oldest son is in grade 1, my middle son is in kindergarten, and my youngest son is in preschool.  That’s 3 different setting which means 3 times the germs entering our house.


Sure we wash our hands and take our vitamins, but sooner or later, we are bound to get the sniffles, and sometimes even worse.

A question I get asked a lot is: Should I exercise when I’m sick?

As a fitness fanatic, I HATE getting sick.  I HATE missing my workout.

Okay, so I’m pretty sure you all think I’m crazy right about now, but when I’m sick, I miss that high I feel after a good workout.  But even a fitness fanatic like me needs to take a step back and listen to my body.

When you’re sick, your body uses its recovery properties to fight the illness. When you exercise, you use these same properties to recover. To your body, trying to exercise when you’re sick is effectively the same thing as overtraining. You won’t be able to recover from exercise, rendering it useless, as well as increasing the risk of making your illness worse and lengthening your downtime.

Believe it or not, there are actually a couple of upsides to being sick. It both raises your metabolism and heightens your immune response, meaning that you can eat more than normal and not gain weight. Your immune system also releases performance-enhancing hormones that both fight the infection and help you heal microtrauma incurred during your training program.

Once I know I’m sick, I rest as much as I possibly can.  My diet becomes very clean. No coffee, alcohol, sugar, junk, and I drink a ton of water. Also, I eat a lot of small meals all day long. Your body needs nutrients when it’s sick but doesn’t want the energy burden of digesting large meals.

When the cold has turned the corner I begin moving more. I’ll do low-level aerobic exercise and some light yoga—restorative exercise. I’ll build this gradually as I feel better, so that when the symptoms are gone I can hit it hard, right where I left off.

The good news is, that a workout enthusiast like me, should have to deal with this issue less often than my couch potato friends!

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