When Are You Too Sick to Work Out?

Exercising can sometimes make you feel worse. But can you tell the difference?

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Exercising is a good medication for people if they are sick because it helps them sleep better, resulting in a high quality rest. Working out also boosts your energy, mood and "good" cholesterol while decreasing unhealthy triglycerides. And these are just the short-term effects. However, training can make you feel even more under the weather than before.

Sneezing and coughing can rarely prevent a gym enthusiast from working out while it may be just another excuse for a lazy beginner to stay home. It may be hard to believe but the latter can be right in this case. Recognizing the signs so you don’t feel bad if you have to cheat on your training schedule is imperative.

Unfortunately, telling when you should rest is not rocket science. It isn’t obvious. “Listen to your body” is a cliché but for a very good reason. Don’t think you’re invincible because you may be proven wrong in which case you may have to rest for even longer.

The Neck Rule

Where is the pain? Below or above the neck? If you have a headache and a stuffy nose, then you most likely have a common cold, so go ahead and enjoy the gym. A study found that people who performed moderate-intensity exercises—like walking—while they had a cold got better in half the time people who didn’t work out. It’s important to not to dynamic exercises such as running, swimming, or cycling because then they can suppress the immune system, resulting in you feeling worse. The American Council on Exercise suggests low-impact physical activity of 30 minutes or less when exercising with a cold.

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However, if you have congestion in your lungs and have a fever, then you probably have the flu in which case you’re advised to stay home. Working out while you’re running a fever will make you even more dehydrated, which increase the risk of heart issues.

If you’re not sure which category you fall under, then hit the gym but start slowly. Don’t start with your usual high-intensity internal training. Take it easy for 10 minutes.  If after that you’re feeling OK, then you’re in the clear to gradually start following your typical training session.

Back Pain

Just because you are physically capable of walking doesn’t mean running or doing squats is a good idea. Rest for a few days until your back feels better. Sharp pain when you bend or turn around means you have to avoid moving much so you can let your muscles heal. Otherwise, you’re only making them worse.

Dry mouth

This is not particularly obvious but it can be a sign of illness. Fighting an infection take a lot of the fluids in your body. Mouth that is drier than usual is the first sign that something is wrong because you’re dehydrated. So stay home, have some soup, drink lots of water and rest.

Old injury hasn’t healed yet

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Active people can’t sit still, can they? No one likes to be sidelined. But if you don’t want to be forced to sit on the couch for weeks, it’s a good idea to let your injury completely heel before you get back out there. The same goes for when an old injury is starting to hurt a little bit. Skip the workout and see a doctor.

You look pale

Your body is showing you that it’s not feeling well and you need to give it a rest. Listen. You get pale when your blood flow is slowed down and the number of red blood cells is not enough. Chronic anemia is common but the lack of color can also come suddenly in which case it may be serious. Poor blood circulation can lead to pain in certain parts of the body, typically the arms and legs. Seek medical help if you faint or have abdominal pain.


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People who have this condition should exercise but when they recently had an episode. In fact, they should rest for a few days even if they have no symptoms. Don’t exercise as usual, though. Lower the intensity of your workout as much as you can. Choose walking instead of running and do low-intensity strength exercises. Stop immediately of you feel like you can’t catch your breath.


Blood valves in the legs tighten when we stand and they help keep blood pressure under control. But this process doesn’t work properly if you’re feeling dizzy. Exercising in the contition can then make you feel confused and weak. You don’t want to feel like that at the gym or in the park while running. Stay home and rest until you feel like your usual self.

Recent concussion

This may be obvious but it has to be repeated because people don’t listen. Having a concussion is no joke. It’s a brain injury and can be very serious if not treated properly. You don’t want to risk getting another head injury while the first one has not healed yet. You’re increasing the chance of swelling in your brain which can be lethal.

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