Is it safe to exercise when sick? Whether you’re dealing with a common cold or Covid-19, learn how to navigate your training regime this cold and flu season – and how to recognise when it’s time to put down the weights and get some rest…

Suffering from a sniffly nose or a sore throat? Given the time of year, who isn’t? It can be tricky to keep on top of your workout game when you keep getting struck down by the latest bug. If you’re feeling under the weather, you may be left wondering whether it’s even safe to work out, or if you’ll end up making your illness worse. We caught up with Sarah Campus, personal trainer and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS, to get some answers.

Whether you’re dealing with a cold, the flu or COVID, here’s everything you need to know about exercising safely when sick…

Is it safe to exercise when sick?

Generally speaking, it’s okay to do some gentle exercise if your symptoms are not too bad. ‘Mild to moderate physical activity is okay if you have a common cold and no fever, but ensure it’s of low impact and not for a long duration,’ Sarah tells us. ‘Exercise may even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion. The most important thing is that you listen to your body and rest if you feel fatigued.’

Can I exercise when I have Covid-19?

So, it’s okay to exercise if you’ve got a bit of a sniffle – but what about Covid-19? ‘If you have Covid symptoms, you’re advised to give your body and immune system time to rest and recover. It’s normal to feel tired, weak or short of breath when you are recovering from Covid-19. Do not worry if you feel more tired and have less energy than usual. The most important thing during this time is to concentrate on rest and fueling your body right with the best nutrients.’

What if you’re dealing with a milder case of a virus? If you don’t feel too bad, gentle exercise could actually benefit you – but stick to private sessions. ‘Being active can help your recovery from Covid-19, if you take your time and set small goals. However, if you test positive for Covid or have symptoms, you should avoid going to the gym and other public spaces to prevent spreading the virus to others,’ Sarah adds.

Can exercising when sick make you worse?

So, gentle exercise while sick can give your body a boost and support your recovery – but it’s important that you don’t overdo it. ‘If you have not given your body enough time to recover, then you could get worse or even take longer to get better. So, it is much better to listen to your body and rest up,’ Sarah explains. If in doubt, take the day off.

Can exercise boost your immune system?

So, you’ve just gotten over yet another cold – now, you’re probably wondering how to avoid immediately catching another bug. It turns out, keeping active could be exactly what the doctor ordered. ‘Moderate-intensity exercise can stimulate cellular immunity by increasing the circulation of immune cells in your body which in turn boosts your immune system,’ Sarah explains.

However, don’t forget to fuel your body correctly and take plenty of rest, otherwise you could end up getting run down. ‘Exercise needs to be combined with good nutrition to fuel your body right. This will help to prevent your body from catching bugs – and also help your body to fight off any bugs if you do get sick.’

Can exercise fight off a cold?

While exercise can help to boost your immune system, it shouldn’t necessarily be your first port of call when you wake up feeling rough. ‘The benefits verses the risks of exercising when sick depends upon the intensity of the cold or illness you have, and the stage you are at with it. It also depends on the type of exercise you are going to do,’ Sarah explains.

‘However, in general, it is best to prioritise rest until you have recovered from your cold or illness, before returning to exercise. That being said, light, gentle exercise can help you – mentally as well as physically – if you don’t feel too bad. Overall, it’s crucial to listen to your own body and rest if you need to,’ Sarah adds.

Which exercises can I do while sick?

If you feel up to exercising when sick, maybe don’t immediately head to a HIIT class. ‘It’s best to stick to low-intensity options, like light walking, yoga and gentle stretching,’ Sarah recommends.

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