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Should I Still Exercise Even When I Have Cold or Flu?

August 26th, 2008 · 21 Comments ·


Early last month, I was not feeling well for couple of days. Having sore throat and cough. But, I was wondering whether I should push myself to pump the iron. Just now, managed to catch an interesting conversation with a seasoned personal trainer.

Here is what I have learned:

  • First, differentiate between a cold and a flu.
    • Flu is infection caused by virus. You normally have running nose, sore throat, high fever, body aches and lack of energy.
    • A cold, on the other hand, is much less serious.  Its symptoms include running nose, sore throat, cough, some tiredness and low grade of fever.


  • Next, a good rule of thumb always is the “neck check”.
    • If your symptoms are below the neck, say high fever, chest congestion, muscle and joint pains, as experienced in flu, you should not exercise until you recover. Why? Training in this condition will not give you any any real training effect, so you are wasting time and energy. In fact, it may worsen your illness. A bad infection could turn into pneumonia (a serious illness in which one or both lungs become red and swollen and filled with liquid). Exercising with a fever can cause your body temperature to rise even higher. When your body temperature is high, body fluids are diminished, thus increasing the risk of dehydration.
    • If your symptoms are all above the neck, more like having cold, you can still train as long as your body can take it. However, be prepared that you might feel lousy during and after your workout. A light workout may help you feel better. However, please be aware that exercising will not help you get better faster. No, you can’t “sweat out” a cold.

Though Mun has always encouraged you to exercise, but do not feel bad if you are not able to do so when you are sick. It is not the end of the world if you take some time off to rest. Missing a week of workout will not deteriorate your fitness level significantly. Trust me, you do not have to start all over again. The gym building will not run away.


In fact, when we under weather, we should eat well, drink water, rest and not to do strenuous physical activities to avoid extreme fatigue. When we are sick, our muscles are not working but our immune system will be working hard.  Even if you have cold and still decide to run or cycle, if you do not feel well, stop exercising immediately and rest. Do not keep pushing yourself for the wrong reason. Also, if you are infected by virus, do not go to gym. No body will come up to you and say thank you for sharing your infection.

Hopefully, this above and below the “neck rule” will help you to decide whether you should exercise. However, always listen to your body. In fact, we should exercise to stay healthy before we get sick and not only wait till we have cold then only we want to exercise. Don’t you think so?




Category: Health

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21 responses so far ↓
  • mumsgather // Aug 26, 2008 at 10:36 AM

    Thanks for the info. I was wondering about this myself as I’ve been having a cough for the past 3 weeks.

  • Angie Tan // Aug 26, 2008 at 1:17 PM

    I tried to work out once when I was just having a cold. Because I didn’t take a very hot shower after that, I caught the flu.

    Anyway, I noticed that after I get either the cold or flu, my chest feels rather congested and I can’t seem to have enough lung capacity to exercise at the level I was before. It can be a bit frustrating but we must remember that our body needs to recover.

    Yes, nobody likes to work out with someone who is coughing or sneezing beside them. ;)

  • Yoga Lover // Aug 26, 2008 at 2:09 PM

    Thanks for the info as I was wondering about this question for quite some time. I went for a pilates class when I got cold. As a result it made me worse and got to visit the doctor at last. I was warned by elderly that not suppose to do any exercise when get cold or flu.

  • mang0 // Aug 26, 2008 at 3:03 PM

    My yoga teacher has also told us not to exercise when we are sick.
    Anyway, I’m not that “hardworking” to think of exercising when I’m sick. Lots of rest and lots of water is the best medicine.

  • Lisan // Aug 26, 2008 at 11:45 PM

    Thanks for the information! Otherwise I’ll continue my mistake forever. I always thought exercising will make my fever go away as I sweat. Last week I was down with quite a terrible flu, all symtoms mentioned above were significant including a lower, back neck muscle pain. So I thought exercising is a good idea. Naturally my stamina was lousy and feel very tired easily but my fever was gone after I sweated. So I thought that was the end of my fever, heck, but noooo…….it got worst after a few hours! My throat got even drier, neck muscle more painful, even worst fever than before because I feel very cold in normal tempreture. Luckily I went to see the doctor and I recovered the next day. Thank goodness! :-) Now only I know exercise isn’t a good idea when we aren’t feeling well.

  • Tom Parker // Aug 27, 2008 at 7:17 AM

    Good post Mun. You have got it spot on when you say “Missing a week of workout will not deteriorate your fitness level significantly”. In fact I usually take a week off from the gym every 8 weeks or so just to give my body a rest, regardless of whether I am ill or not. I think it’s good to have a rest period a few times a year just to let your body fully recharge.

  • Ava Semerau // Aug 27, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    Good information. I’m in training for a half-marathon – my first real running adventure – and I’m like sponge when it comes to what to do and not to do. Seems over the years, I’ve forgotten how to listen to my body – imagine that! Thanks.

  • foongpc // Aug 27, 2008 at 11:47 AM

    Excellent post! I have attempted to work out with a flu once and after that, my flu got much worse and I was sick for more than 2 weeks!
    Lesson learnt : Never do any intensive workouts when sick and especially at the early stage of sickness for 2 reasons.
    Reason 1 – our immune system already weakened from the sickness will have a uphill task of fighting the sickness if it’s further weakened by intensive exercise.
    Reason 2 – it’s bad on our part to spread virus in the gym. Flu virus spread easier by touch more than by air, so if you don’t wipe all those machines you touched with a disinfectant, you will very likely pass to others. And since most people’s immune system are temporarily weakened during their workout in the gym, they stand a high chance of getting the flu.

  • linda // Mar 19, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    i worked out during a cold which caused my cold to last three weeks. THREE. i would get better and get immediately sick again. i was scared to miss a good workout for a week in case i lost any progress or gained weight, so when i did workout during that week, it ended up getting me so ill that i couldnt work out for an addition two more weeks.

  • littlebufftoughstuff // May 13, 2009 at 6:57 AM

    Reading this article just stopped me from making a potential mistake. I sit here in the office coughing up goo and completely stuffed up. I wanted badly to go to the gym for some heavy lifting as my work day is over and vacation is a week away, however as a scientist I had a nagging “don’t go! Your body is sick and needs to recover.” in my head. Thought I’d check with the fitness buffs for their opinnion. It was reassuring to remember that my little jacked muscles wont waste away in a week (scientificially 2 weeks until any muscle loss at no activity-yup Im a geek!) and reading others’ comments further pushed me away from the gym and into the kitchen to make some chicken soup then off to bed early. Thank you!

  • bobs // Mar 12, 2010 at 12:29 AM

    Thanks. I have a massive cold sore and as a result have been feeling run down, sick and sore. I’m meant to run the NYC half marathon which is in less than 2 weeks. But I have taken this week off to get better. Hopefully it won’t matter and I’ll be able to run it just fine. So thanks for making me feel like I can still run after a whole week off.

  • christiian // Apr 28, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    Thanks! now I can play Basketball and tell my mother about her false beliefs are not suppose to be followed.

  • SB // May 13, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    Ha ha, with this article I proved to my teenager that mothers do know what they are talking about – most of the time!

  • Jonz // Jul 5, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    Been ill for 2 days and this write up actually makes me feel better – telling myself to rest and not push myself to the gym or to head for a run. I think i’ll rest till I get better to obtain a productive workout.

  • SJR // Jul 21, 2010 at 10:16 PM

    So glad to hear all the above, especially as I had programmed in for today grid sprints (which I hate but are really good for improvement). It takes me forever to get round to doing them and now I have this rubbish cold. I know that I should get better first – if I was to do them today I would not achieve my best then feel even worse for the poor performance. Many thanks for the advice, glad to see it’s not just me feeling guilty for missing a day’s exercise!

  • Preston Blain // Dec 21, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    An interesting look at what to do when you are ill. I have just been suffering from flu (a lot going around in the Uk at the moment) and have completely rested from the gym. Don’t feel I could perform that well at the moment so don’t think it’s worth the risk of having a relapse by going back too early.

  • mark cooper // Feb 9, 2011 at 5:05 AM

    Thank you for an interesting feature. I agree whole heartedly, in particular with the last few points concerning the well being of other athletes. The repurcussions of getting sick for some people is serious, so keep your germs at home please. Other people at the gym, for example, might be training seriously for a competition or athletic event. For others being in top shape might be part of their responsibility professionally speaking. Personal trainers lose time and money when they are sick. It’s not just about you and whether you feel “up to it” , it’s about everyone that has to use the equipment that you have touched after blowing your nose and coughing everywhere.
    I’m a lifetime weight lifter and a life member of the British Amateur Weight Lifters association and certified to instruct. If I get sick I know that I cannot train hard enough, so I stay at home and keep my germs to myself. At home I do some push-ups, ab work, use some light weights and practice a little gentle yoga. This way, I don’t feel as if my training is headed in reverse.
    Thanks for allowing me to share my opinion. Be well everyone.

  • Thomas // Feb 18, 2011 at 3:09 AM

    I’m sick right now and am still training very hard but resting, drinking and eating healthy foods are also high in the regiment. I’m getting through it and feel good after exercise! still coughing at night but aches fever are gone. I’ll keep u posted

  • anna // Apr 14, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    Great article and I totally agree with you.. I was ill for about a week and it turned out to be flu, luckly I recovered pretty fast. And on about second day I felt better I went to the gym, everything was fine and I felt good. However next day all the symptoms came back, not so strongly though.

    That is why I recommend to stay out of gym, fitness etc. for at least a week after all the symptoms of illness are gone..

  • mark cooper // Apr 15, 2011 at 2:18 AM

    It’s interesting all this and I wonder if it all comes down to this. To be get fit, or stay fit one has to be determined and dedicated. One also has to be fairly self centered, focussing on ones own needs whilst at the gym. This to me, includes keeping equipment clean. I wipe down the bench before and after I lay on it, primarily because absolutely no-one else does so, and I don’t want to lay on their sweat. I work out quietly and work out hard. It’s not a social event for me, but I want to leave it tidy, clean and hygenic for everyone else. What we’re talking about is gym etiquette, which I would suggest is very lacking in most places where people go to train.
    If you have flu like symptoms, don’t be selfish, stay away from the gym.

  • barbara matranga // Nov 15, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    I want to get back in shape gradually and not burn out.
    I am 64 yrs. old. and want to lose body fat. and inches mostly. When I put on jeans, I want them to fit comfortable again, not tight and cannot breathe.
    It is not easy to head into the gym after work. I work at a high school and get to work very early. and get off at 3 30 pm. I work outside some of the day and I get tired. I am still coming up on the immunoglobin. and immune stystem

    I am almost recovered from having a bad virus and flu.
    for ten days.

    Barbara Matranga
    832 275 8445

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