Should You Exercise with a Cold Coming on?


Exercise Sick

You know the feeling. You start getting that lump in your throat, you’re achy, you’ve got a headache and a sore throat. Do you stop training?

Today we’ll find out.

So, you’ve got days, if not a week or two, of recovering to do. Load up on the chicken soup, the tissues and the movies. After all, you’ve just got to sweat out a cold, right?

Just face it – despite all your vitamins, healthy eating and working out, you’re getting sick. It happens to the best of us, it’s OK. And maybe you’re wondering how to deal with the whole ‘exercising when sick’ deal.

But perhaps the most important question of all is….

Should you exercise with a cold coming on?

It’s a tough call – you don’t want to mess up your workout routine but you need some time to recover. So what should you do? What’s the right choice when it comes to working out when sick? Is it really possible to sweat out a cold?

Cold Vs Workout

Picture yourself at your favorite gym, ready to crush your workout. You’re just getting warmed up and you’re feeling great. Energy levels are on point.

Next thing you know, someone walks by sneezing and coughing. You can tell that person is sick.

Say it, don’t spray it,” you think to yourself as the person walks by and sneezes all over the gym equipment. Suddenly, you wish you had some alcohol wipes with you.

But did you ever wonder why Mr. Share-Your-Germs is hanging out at the gym while sick? What if you could actually sweat a cold out of your system? And what if it did wonders for your immune system in the meantime?

How Exercise Involves the Immune System

Let’s take a look into the immune system first. All day, every day, your immune system is fighting a battle – and most of the time, it’s winning. It squares up against all the many viruses, fungi, bacteria and parasites that can wreak havoc on your body.

The germs that attack and try to invade your upper respiratory tract can cause:

  • Colds & coughs
  • Influenza (aka the lovely flu)
  • Sinusitis (when your head feels like it’s going to explode)
  • Tonsillitis (tonsils = on fire)
  • Throat infections (can’t even say ‘ouch’)
  • Middle ear infections (ears = exploding)

Most likely, you’ve experienced one or more of the very unpleasant illnesses above. And, also most likely, it’s something you haven’t forgotten. No one wants to be bedridden for days with these awful sicknesses. And you might worry about how you could possibly consider working out when sick.

So what do you do then?

Lucky for us, our immune system is suited up and ready to fight. Whenever your immune system encounters a foreign attack, it goes to work against it. If we didn’t have an immune system, we’d be sick all the time. Every. Single. Day.

So the immune system is pretty important. It also takes a lot of energy to fuel larger immune responses. You might be wondering if that leaves enough energy left to fuel workout recovery.

To find out, let’s take a closer look at the immune system. Here’s how it works: Our immune cells come from the marrow in our bones and thymus. And they go head-to-head with any type of invading virus through the lymph nodes, mucus membranes, and the spleen.

In simple terms, contact with these invaders occurs in your mouth, stomach, lungs and urinary tract first.

What happens next?

Sweating Out A Cold

Immune System First Responders

Our natural immune system is our very first defense that tries to save us from an attack.

What does this include?

– Areas such as the mucus lining of the nasal passages

– Any chemical barriers, like the acids in your stomach

– Protective cells, such as the white blood cells that destroy any invading viruses.

And all of this develops when we’re babies before we even know what a virus or working out are.

Pop quiz time! Who do you think has a stronger natural immune response to colds?

Men or women?

Women! While women are statistically more likely to develop autoimmune diseases, they’re also more likely to handle a cold better than their male counterparts. Win some, lose some.

Another pop quiz! Who is more likely to benefit from exercise with a cold? We don’t actually know yet, but keep reading. It depends on the immune system and the next piece of the immunity puzzle – the adaptive system.

How Does the Adaptive System Affect Working Out While Sick?

This part of the system is a bit more advanced because it’s made up of concentrated cells and specific processes.

It also has the natural immune system’s back.

When the natural immune system gets overwhelmed and starts slacking a little bit, the adaptive immune system steps up to the plate.

It helps your body in the fight against damaging infections. How? It prevents pathogens from grouping together. And it completely annihilates viruses and various other types of microorganisms.

Now let’s introduce the two stars of the show – the T and B cells. As two specialty white blood cells, T and B have spent their time maturing in the thymus and bone marrow.

Here’s the kind of creepy part – they remember things.

No really, they have a certain type of memory that allows them to almost recognize a certain kind of pathogen.

And this is real, really good news for you because this helps T and B not only attack it better but also fight it and get rid of it more effectively. Go, T and B! They can help you with sweating out a cold for sure.

So THIS is what we were talking about in the gym earlier – the whole strengthening up the immune system thing. So maybe it’s time you pick up a basic workout routine. 

Think about little kids. Why do they get sick so much more than the average adult? Because their adaptive immune system doesn’t have as much experience, so to speak, as an adult’s would. So it’s harder for them to fight things off because their immune system doesn’t have the experience.

Okay, back to the exercise thing…

Back to the point!

Can you sweat out a cold?

Should you exercise with a cold?

What’s the right play here?!

First things first – there is a big difference between actually working and just simply moving your body.

When you’re huffing and puffing and sweating (and yes, feeling some discomfort), this triggers a type of stress response in your body—cortisol is the hormone at work here.

And when you’re feeling nice and healthy, your body is easily able to get used to this stress.

In fact, as time goes on and you continue your workout routine, getting used to that stress response is a part of exactly what helps you get in shape.

However, when you’re working out with a cold or any type of illness, the strenuous activity of an intense workout can be tough for your immune system to handle while its resources are being used to fight a battle.

So this means you should dive headfirst into that couch and load up Netflix for the next week or so, right?

Well, technically no. You can still exercise while sick. In fact, exercising while sick may not be as bad as you think.

…. As long as you take some non-strenuous movement into consideration.

Here’s what we mean by that:

  • Some light walking (outdoors if possible)
  • Low-intensity bike riding
  • Yoga

Some non-strenuous movement is the way to go here if you want to continue working out while sick. Movement is good, but completely shocking your body with super intense workouts should be avoided.

And an added bonus – these activities have been proven to boost your immunity!

Case in point – sweating out a cold may actually help your immune system. Performing light exercise when sick isn’t enough to put huge stress on your body and compromise your immune system.

Can I Exercise with a Cold

Low-Intensity Workouts Found To Help Reduce Your Cold

If you’re going to complete low intensity exercises, then yes, you can keep working out while sick.

So, what’s the deal with higher-intensity workouts?

After all, what’s considered high intensity to one person may be entirely different than what another person considers high.

This is where things can get a little complicated, but all you have to do is listen to your body.

A low to medium workout will leave you feeling rejuvenated and full of energy, even if you’re working out with a cold. A higher intensity workout will kick you to the ground. So, obviously, avoid that type of workout when you’re working out while sick.

What About High-Intensity Workouts? 

We’ll break this down for you. When you exercise while sick or healthy, both your natural and your adaptive immune systems respond to this.

After a hardcore, lengthy workout, you’re going to be more vulnerable to infections.


Because you’re weakening your immune system (temporarily). And this weakening can last for as long as 72 hours! This is why so many people get sick after they’ve run a marathon.

On the flip side…

After a lower intensity workout, your body still benefits from the movement, but at lower impact. Your immune system isn’t suppressed. In fact, this can actually kick the immunity back into you. So doing the right kind of exercising with a cold could be helpful for you.

And don’t forget, that while you are healthy, moderate to intense exercise on a continual basis, with resistance training, strengthens the immune system. So go for it while you’re healthy and you’ll spend less time on the mend!

Remember, lengthy, intense exercise can interfere with your recovery when you’re fighting an immune battle.

So if you’re going to exercise while sick, just take it slow and easy. Should you exercise with a cold coming on? Yes. Should you overdo it? No.

Facts About Exercising While Sick

OK, let’s get to the interesting stuff.

A group of scientists decided to study exercise and influenza. Here’s what they found:

  • Those who never exercised got sick. A lot. Shocker.
  • The participants who exercised somewhere between once a month and up to three times a week scored the best.
  • Anyone who exercised more than four times a week got sick more often.

This might surprise you.

This idea is called the J-shaped theory. And yes, it definitely comes into play with working out with a cold.

  • Being completely inactive is unsurprisingly very bad for you.
  • Being too active may also be bad for your immune system.

A healthy balance in between the two is the best way to go. And it’ll make it easier for you to work out when you’re sick, while keeping you healthy more of the time. Should you exercise with a cold coming on? Yes. Can exercising before you get sick, keep you healthy? Also yes.

Stress and Working Out While Sick

It’s no surprise that stress has a huge role in our immune system. Sickness and stress often go hand-in-hand. When you want to exercise while sick, you might first ask yourself:

Did stress cause this sickness?

Stress causes a huge shift in hormones, which in turn impacts immune function. Freaking out and panicking can obviously tear your immune system down and you’re a lot more likely to get sick.

Did you know that stress is the leading cause of human illness?

If your ailments are caused by stress, it’s important to find a way to combat this stress, remove it at the source, and also deal with your body’s signals. And then you have to ask the dreaded question we’ve been discussing this whole time – Do I exercise with a cold? Is it healthy to exercise while sick?

It seems again that the middle road is the best. Light to moderate exercise will reduce stress without further compromising your immune system.

A lot of people use exercise as a stress reliever. And if that’s your go-to way to relieve stress, give your body what it needs! But listen to your body’s signals and what it’s telling you.

We laid out a rough plan that should help you address your body’s needs while you’re sick.

Follow these guidelines for determining what exercise you should be doing based on your symptoms:

Day 1 of Sickness:

– Symptoms: Sore throat, coughing, runny/stuffy nose.

– Stick with low intensity exercises.

– If your symptoms include joint paint, headaches, a fever, diarrhea or vomiting, abstain from all physical activity for 24 hours.

Day 2 of Sickness:

– If your symptoms are worse (see above) don’t exercise.

– If your fever has passed and the other symptoms aren’t worse, try a low intensity workout for about 30-45 minutes. Include yoga as this will help circulate blood to fight illness.

Day 3 of Sickness:

– If your symptoms are still hanging around, it’s time to call the doctor. Sorry!

– If your symptoms are no worse, try to bump up your workout to 45-60 minutes. Get some fresh air and take a long walk outside.

Day 4 of Sickness:

– Hopefully you listened about going to the doctor.

– If your symptoms have improved or disappeared, wait a day or so and then go back into your routine.

Workout with a Cold


So, should you exercise with a cold coming on?

Possibly. But take it easy. Movement is a nutrient that your body needs on a daily basis. At the same time, high-intensity resistance training takes a toll on your body. Demanding your body to perform at its peak, means your immune system needs to be working at its peak as well.

Regular exercise and managing your stress levels will pay off huge in keeping you healthy more of the time!

Lastly, don’t forget the yoga! Even if you’re stuck at home sick, stretching and circulating your blood will help move along your sickness. Get well soon and get back after it!

-Terry Asher

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Gym Junkies Founder & Editor in Chief at Gym Junkies LLC
I’m Terry and I’m here to help you achieve your fitness goals. I truly believe anyone can achieve the figure they want with the proper guidance. Through my extensive fitness blog, top fitness videos, leading workout supplements, and top selling eBooks, I have been able to help thousands of people online lose weight, tone up and get in shape. My passion is helping people all around the world change their lives for the better.
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Should You Exercise with a Cold Coming on?
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Should You Exercise with a Cold Coming on?
Today's post settles the debate, should you exercise with a cold coming on? Find out the right techniques to beat your cold and manage stress.
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