I’m Sick. Should I Exercise?

Junior apple Lance asks:

“Hey, Mark, what’s the deal with working out when you are sick? Is it true that exercise is safe if you have a cold, but bad if you have the flu?”

There are some general rules to follow, but in my opinion, the best thing to do is to trust your instincts. Sometimes when you’re sick you don’t have severe symptoms, but you feel fatigued and weak nevertheless. Other times you may be so symptomatic you’re virtually a stockholder in Kleenex, yet you’re physically peppy enough to function. Often the sniffly, frog-in-the-throat cold symptoms come as you’re nearly healed, so at this point, it’s fine and healthy to exercise. The funny thing is that this is usually the point when we really notice our illness; but by this point, the virus is already well under attack by your immune system.

Energy is a subtle thing; pay attention to how it moves in your body. There’s no benefit to a heart-pumping, calorie-burning workout if your tissues and organs are depleted of their energy; this will only drain you further. My advice? If your heart’s just not in it – if you just can’t “get into” the workout, it’s probably not the best idea to push it. On the other hand, if you simply feel a little crummy, a mild workout like a walk in the fresh air can actually speed your recovery dramatically (be sure to shower and nap afterwards to stimulate healing).

Bottom line: pay heed to that instinct!

Here are general guidelines:

If your symptoms are mostly “in your head” (sniffles, headache, sore throat) it’s usually fine to exercise. Caveats: have a terrible headache, fever or brain fog? Stay in bed.

If your symptoms are closer to the “business end” (nausea and other unpleasantries) do not work out under any circumstances. You need rest and fluids and possibly a trip to the doc. Caveats: if you’ve got “the shakes” from jet lag or too much partying, a workout will actually do you good, though it definitely won’t be fun.

If your muscles are a bit achy, a gentle swim or a walk can help. Caveats: if your bones ache or if you feel stiff, don’t attempt exercise – your organs and acid production are trying desperately to cope with whatever bug has invaded your system, so lie low, amigo.

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[tags]exercise, sickness, working out, immune system, cold symptoms, depleted energy, recovery, illness[/tags]

TAGS:  immune health

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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9 thoughts on “I’m Sick. Should I Exercise?”

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  1. Hey Mark,
    This is an awesome post and I’m surprised it has no replies!
    Anyways I woke up this morning with a sore throat and I’m feeling slightly weak. Not sure if this is in my head or body but I think I’ll take the day off and sleep long today since I’ve been hitting my body pretty hard with weights and conditioning lately.
    Any specific foods that will speed up the recovery process?

  2. I’m a new coming to Primal eating and it’s going well.
    I get chest (coughing which turns to Bronchitis quickly), just wanted to find out what you thought about working out while having chest colds, coughing etc.

  3. Great post. I cant tell you how many times Ive asked myself this question in the past, especially when I was eating a SAD and was sick all the time. Mark’s approach as always is so refreshing – no strict headmaster here – just great advice – listen to your body.
    In the past Ive rushed back to the gym way before I was ready, terrified that days away would lead to weight gain. It did me no good at all and meant I constantly felt weak, run down and stressed from the constant pschyological pressure I put on myself to workout under any circumstances! Nowadays I have faith in the eating plan, the Primal way of life and listen to my body and go back when Im feeling completely ready. Thanks Mark!

  4. I’ve also heard that working out-done properly-and especially resistance training strengthens the immune system. So maybe there is something to the “suck it up and just work out” mentality? Of course, you should probably rest when you have the flu-you would want to stress your body if it can’t even handle the stress it already has.

  5. Good to know that a sore throat and sniffles are the last parts of a cold. My energy is fine but the symptoms are annoying. I figure I could fast but I’m starving right now.

    1. Though, I should have said, that it can also be quite fun (after the initial 4 kilometers that is)