ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Sweat it out or get some rest instead?

Safety and Injuries

Should your client exercise while sick?

Reading Time: 3 minutes 38 seconds

By: Dominique Groom

Date: 2017-06-21T00:00:00-04:00

What symptoms should you pay attention to before you hit the gym?

We all know that exercising does the body good—a good sweat session can even boost your immune system—but what should you do when your immune system is on overdrive because of an infection?

Should you take a break from your workout schedule or should you push through it?

If you have spent any time at a gym, you've seen that one person struggling to get through her workout. She's sneezing, blowing her nose, and looking absolutely miserable while trying to get in a training spite of a nasty cold. She may even be hoping the workout will help her get over it sooner.

As it turns out, the old "sweat out the cold" technique isn't recommended. There is no evidence that exercising can help get rid of a cold. Though light exercise does increase your serotonin levels—which makes you feel better temporarily—exercise won't magically cure the common cold, or any other infection for that matter.[2]

Is it Ever Safe to Exercise When Sick?

It sucks to have a training routine interrupted. We all know how that feels. You or your client wants to meet certain fitness or even competition goals, and then the plans get derailed.

When you're in the middle of achieving an important goal, and illness strikes, how can you know when it's safe to carry on and when you need to stay in bed?

Click below to view full infographic or download PDF here to share with your client

Sweat it out or get some rest instead infographic

A good rule of thumb for making this decision is to look at the symptoms (Anthem, 2010):

  • Safe to work out: The symptoms are mostly above the neck, or in other words, you have an upper respiratory infection, like the common cold. Stick with low to moderate training sessions for these kinds of symptoms.

  • Not safe to work out: There are significant symptoms below the neck, like body aches, lung pain when breathing, or coughing. These are signs of more serious illness, like the flu and mean you need to take a break.

  • Definitely not safe to work out: It's also important to take extra care if you or your client has a chronic condition that affects breathing, like asthma. A condition like this combined with an infection can make working out really dangerous.

Never exercise if you have a bad cough, fever, or symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. If you have a fever, you don't want to raise your temperature even more by exercising. That can be dangerous.

Also, out of consideration for other people at the gym, if you are contagious it's a good idea to stay home.

If you are towards the end of your cold, and you feel like you can exercise again, you probably are no longer contagious, but be courteous and wipe down your equipment after using, just in case.

How hard can you work out?

If you do feel like it's safe to work out in spite of an illness, make sure you take it down a notch. Overdoing a workout will only hamper your immune system and worsen or extend the duration of a cold (Walsh, 2015).

If you are on a training plan where you physically push yourself hard, it would be a smart idea to take a break and choose a less intense workout. If you're just itching to exercise, do something easy like yoga or walking. Avoid a workout that will cause you to breathe too heavily.

When you're not sick, exercising can help maintain a healthy immune system (Matthews et al, 2002). People who exercise and stay active are usually sick less often than people who live sedentary lives. For anyone who is healthy, a daily workout session can really boost the functioning of the immune system. What better way to motivate your clients?

So just because you're sick doesn't necessarily mean you need to sit it out. Depending on the symptoms, you may not have to take an unwanted rest day. By making the right choices and taking it easy when necessary, you and your clients can make it through the cold and flu season and still stay on track with training goals.

  • Anthem Media Group. "Exercise May Help Prevent Common Cold, Exercise Caution When Sick." Pro Quest. N.p., 02 Dec. 2010. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

  • Dey, Sangita, R.h. Singh, and P.k. Dey. "Exercise Training: Significance of Regional Alterations in Serotonin Metabolism of Rat Brain in Relation to Antidepressant Effect of Exercise." Physiology & Behavior 52.6 (1992): 1095-099. Web.

  • Ferry, A. "The Effect of Exercise Training on the Severity and Duration of a Viral Upper Respiratory Illness." Science & Sports 14.3 (1999): 156. Web.

  • Matthews, Charles E., Ira S. Ockene, Patty S. Freedson, Milagros C. Rosal, Philip A. Merriam, and James R. Hebert. "Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity and Risk of Upper-respiratory Tract Infection." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 34.8 (2002): 1242-248. Web.

  • Walsh, Neil P., and Samuel J. Oliver. "Exercise, Immune Function and Respiratory Infection: An Update on the Influence of Training and Environmental Stress." Immunology and Cell Biology Immunol Cell Biol 94.2 (2015): 132-39. NCBI. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

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