Should you work out when you are sick?

Written by Jon Johnson

Working out while sick may not sound enjoyable, although a popular urban myth argues that a person can “sweat out” an illness through exercise. While this is not true in the strictest sense, working out while sick may be helpful in some cases.

In general, a person with symptoms in their head and nose, such as those of a head cold, may benefit from working out.

A person with symptoms in their chest or stomach or someone with a fever should avoid exercising, however. If symptoms get worse or working out causes pain, people are best to avoid working out while sick.

In this article, learn more about the benefits and risks of working out while sick.


Typically, it is okay to exercise with the typical symptoms of a head cold. These include symptoms such as:

  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • puffy or red eyes
  • tension headache

In some cases, these symptoms may actually improve with exercise. Exercise increases the heart rate and stimulates circulation, which might help the body release fluids.

It is vital to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water when working out, especially if a person is sick.

It is also necessary to consider that different exercises will cause different reactions in the body. In general, it is best to avoid extremely strenuous workouts while sick. Instead, an individual should focus on lighter, movement based exercises that get the blood flowing without pushing the body too hard.

These activities might include:

  • walking
  • light jogging
  • leisurely riding a bicycle
  • swimming
  • tai chi
  • gentle yoga

Can you “sweat out” illness?

The idea that a person can literally sweat out their illnesses through exercise is a myth. It may have stuck around for so long because regular exercise keeps the body healthy, and may boost the immune systemTrusted Source.

However, as the authors of a 2018 study note, moderate exercise can reduce the risk of common respiratory illnesses, reduce their severity, and even shorten how long the person has symptoms.

These effects appear to have more to do with empowering the immune system to handle the illness better, and not how much people sweat out the illness while sick.

Mild exercise may also temporarily help with some symptoms, such as a runny nose or headache.

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