New research shows that it’s okay to work out while suffering from an illness — so long as it’s a mild condition.
In fact, some health experts believe engaging in physical exercise of moderate intensity can actually help you overcome a cold. “If you are mildly sick, [staying] active will promote your immune function, and help you sleep better,” notes Dr. Wayne Stokes, a sports medicine expert at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
However, Idalis Velazquez, a Florida-based certified personal trainer, says people should recognize and respect their physical limits while battling a cold. “When I have a mild cold or stuffy nose … I don’t push myself or place any higher demand on my body during those sessions,” Velazquez says. “I treat it like an active recovery day and I tell my clients to do the same.”
Velazquez adds that people suffering from a cold should also consider skipping the gym, thereby preventing the spread of their illness. Dr. Michael P. Angarone, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says germs are most likely to spread during the first three days of a cold. So, if you feel a cold coming on, keep your workouts limited to your home or go for a jog outside.
Of course, no health expert recommends exercise for people dealing with a more serious issue, such as a stomach bug or a feverish flu. If your illness involves diarrhea or vomiting then a workout — no matter the intensity — could make your condition worse.
Dr. Stokes says it’s an especially bad idea to exercise if your fever is 101 degrees or higher, as this could raise your risk of developing a heart condition known as myocarditis, which in extreme cases can result in sudden death. “It’s not common, but it is possible and good reason not to push yourself,” Stokes said.