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How to exercise safely when you’re sick

When you’re sick, warm blankets, hot tea, lots of rest and a funny flick are usually the best ways to fight away germs. Joining your girlfriends for a 7 a.m. spin class? That just doesn’t fit the equation.

Woman with a bad cold |

Hitting the gym, taking a dip in the pool or simply going out for a brisk walk can actually be some of the most useful weapons in your arsenal against the common cold or flu.

Exercising when sick is generally OK as long as you don’t have a fever and you listen to how your body responds to the physical exertion. Though we don’t recommend hitting the gym full force, a toned-down version of your regular routine is a great way to get your blood flowing and help sweat away germs.

Rest or exercise?

Following the guideline that if your symptoms are above the neck — runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing — a light workout is fine and might even make you feel better, says Jackie Vanover, C.H.H.C., A.A.D.P. and certified Pilates instructor. If you’re suffering from symptoms below the neck — chills, a cough, body aches — then rest is the best medicine. Working out in these conditions will only cause more stress on your body and deplete your fluids, which will lengthen recovery time and could lead to more serious complications, she adds.

Dehydration is a common symptom during sickness, so remembering to stay properly hydrated while exercising is important. Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D. and food and nutrition consultant, says this means meeting your daily fluid intake needs, plus extra for what is lost during exercise, plus more for what is lost due to sickness. Aim to increase your intake by at least half of what you regularly take in, in the form of water, teas and 100 per cent juices. Eating lots of water-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, broth-based soups and smoothies, also aids in hydrating your body when working out.

Don’t spread your germs!

Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you can forget about maintaining proper gym etiquette. Remember to wipe down any machines you use and to wash your hands every time you blow your nose or put your hands in contact with your face or mouth. Germs are the one thing people don’t want you to share, so keep them to yourself.

So next time you’re feeling under the weather, try these four exercises to help get your blood flowing and kiss your cold goodbye.

Punching and kicking

Dr. Michael Ho suggests that you treat what ails you as you would an enemy in a physical fight. Shadow boxing, shadow kicking or even punching a punching bag at the gym will toughen up your mind and allow you to feel good about being strong and healthy again.


Bikini |

Not only is swimming refreshing, but it can also help in opening up your airways when you’re sick. The warm, moist air helps to clear up any nasal blockage you might have as well.


Pilates and yoga help to pump fresh, nutrient-rich blood to muscles and help the lymph nodes clear, says Vanover. Breathing exercises in Pilates are especially supportive to the immune system, as they deliver oxygen throughout your system. If you’ve never attempted Pilates or yoga, videos can be found online, and most gyms offer beginner classes as well.


Sure, sitting on a couch in front of the TV is comfortable, but it’s important to keep moving when you’re sick. Ho encourages walking as one of the best exercises for someone who is not feeling well. Take a half-hour- to hour-long walk in the morning and after dinner. If weather prohibits you from going outside, walk around the house or on the spot while watching TV or listening to music.

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