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Cardio Exercise When Sick

author image Kelsey Casselbury
Kelsey Casselbury has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park and formal education in fitness and nutrition. Collins is an experienced blogger, editor and designer, who specializes in nutrition, fitness, weddings, food and parenting topics. She has been published in association and consumer publications, along with daily newspapers such as The Daily Times (Salisbury, Md.)
Cardio Exercise When Sick
When you are sick, sometimes exercising can make you feel worse. Photo Credit: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When you get going with a workout routine, coming down with an illness can really set you back. Sometimes getting out of bed and jumping on the treadmill can help your symptoms, but other times it can worsen your illness. Take your symptoms into account when determining whether you should exercises when you’re ill.

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When It's OK

To determine whether you should exercise, do the "above-the-neck" check. If your symptoms are all above the neck, such as runny nose, nasal congestion, a minor sore throat or other symptoms of the common cold, it’s OK to exercise. Exercise could even help improve your symptoms by opening your nasal passages, which temporarily improves congestion.

When to Rest

If your symptoms are below the neck, skip the gym. This includes having chest congestion, an intense cough or an upset stomach. Additionally, if you have a fever or painful muscle aches, keep resting. However, this above- or below-the-neck rule isn’t always spot-on. If you have severe above-the-neck symptoms, such as a very painful sore throat, rest until the symptoms have subsided.

Additionally, think about other people in the gym. If your symptoms are contagious, you could risk infecting others. Therefore, if you are concerned you could be sneezing all over the elliptical, work out at home or take a break from exercise.


When making your decision, keep in mind that sometimes exercising can have a negative effect on your body. Cardio exercise increases your heart rate and your core temperature, as well as causes you to lose water through perspiration. This is fine when you’re healthy, but if you have a fever, your body’s core temperature is already raised. Raising it further can be dangerous, according to health website Fitday. You also do not want to become dehydrated when you are sick.


If you exercise when ill, modify the intensity and duration of your workout as much as 50 percent. For example, if you usually run for cardio exercise, walk instead. Listen to your body — if your symptoms improve after five to 10 minutes, you can increase the intensity. If you start feeling dizzy, weak or nauseated, your body is telling you to take a break.

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