Integrative Nutrition Blog

Exercising While Sick: To Do or Not to Do?

March 10, 2018

Image via Shutterstock. 

We’ve all experienced that moment when we’ve finally gotten into an exercise routine – we’re feeling good, the momentum is building, and we’re on track with our fitness goals. But next thing we know, we come down with a cold or, even worse, the dreaded flu. Is sweating out a cold in our best interest or should we give our body a break? 

When you feel sick, the most important thing to do is tune in to your body and “listen” for what it needs.

The body is intelligent and knows exactly what it requires for optimal health moment to moment. One way to improve your ability to listen is by considering an action that you want to take (e.g., taking a yoga class) and noticing how your body feels.

For example, if you have a cold and want to know if going for an outside run will benefit you, you might say, “Okay, is running while I’m sick a good idea right now? Body, how does that feel to you?” Pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and notice whether the idea resonates with you. Does it feel energizing, exciting, and nourishing? Or exhausting, dreadful, and like an “I should” rather than an “I desire”?

Of course, every person’s body will communicate in a unique way. Often when it’s a yes, we feel relaxed and expansive and our breath deepens. When it’s a no, we tend to feel constricted and resistant. In other words, if it feels like an obligation more than an act of self-love, it is likely a no. 

Remember, our bodies are brilliant and give us guidance at every moment; we just need to ask and listen.

This innate skill gets better with focus, attention, and practice. Often we learn most through our “mistakes” – misinterpreting a no for a yes and then feeling the repercussions of that. Rather than beating ourselves up, we can affirm that we are becoming more discerning for next time.

As we hone our “listening skills,” it’s helpful to have some guidelines to work with to know whether working out while sick is okay. Dr. Schachter, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, offered this rule of thumb: “If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and tearing eyes, then it's OK to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever, and fatigue, then it's time to hang up the running shoes until these symptoms subside.”

It’s important to acknowledge and honor our natural rhythms.

Are you avoiding exercise when your body craves movement? Or are you pushing yourself too hard when your body requires downtime? Rest is a natural cycle of every living thing. Consider a tree that grows in spurts and then rests. It absorbs nutrients and nourishment from deep within the soil and then takes time before its next growth spurt. Just like that tree, it’s important to give ourselves necessary rest so that we can grow and become stronger than ever before.

Try these exercises at home next time you are feeling sick and have determined that your body requires rest.

  • Reflect on your goals and priorities. Take some time to journal and explore your heart’s truest desires.
  • Experiment with visualization.  Studies have shown that visualizing exercise can be just as effective for your health as actually working out! Close your eyes and imagine going through a yoga sequence, lifting weights, or going for a run all from the comfort of your bed!

Remember, you are the authority of YOU.

Working out during a cold may be what is best for your body in some cases, but everyone – and every cold – is different! Practice tuning in to your body’s messages and remember that this skill takes practice. Be gentle and easy with yourself as you become more discerning and give yourself permission to rejuvenate when your body requires rest.

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