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Should you train when you are ill?

Solltest Du trainieren, wenn Du krank bist?

Exercising regularly is an excellent way to keep your body healthy. In addition to developing a muscular and toned body, exercise can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and improve the function of the immune system (1, 2, 3).

While there is no doubt about the important role that exercise plays in health, many people wonder whether exercising when you are sick will hinder or help your recovery.

However, there is no simple yes/no answer to this question.

This article will explain why sometimes it's okay to exercise when you're sick, while at other times it's best to stay home and rest.

Is it okay to exercise when you are sick?

Recovering as quickly as possible is always the goal when you're sick, but it can be hard to know when it's okay to still go through with your normal workouts at the gym and when it's best to take a few days off.

Exercising is a healthy habit for many and it's normal to want to exercise even when you're unwell. This can be perfectly okay in some situations, but can unfortunately have devastating effects in others.

Many experts use the "above the neck" rule when it comes to giving patients advice on whether they should continue exercising despite illness. According to this theory, if you only experience symptoms above the neck, such as nasal congestion, sneezing or earache, you are likely to be able to continue exercising (4).

On the other hand, if you experience symptoms below your throat such as nausea, aching limbs, fever, diarrhea, cough with mucus sputum or bronchial problems, then you should refrain from exercising until you feel better.

Summary: Some experts use the "above the neck" rule to determine whether it is safe to exercise despite illness. It is most likely not safe to continue exercising if the symptoms of illness are noticeable below the neck.

When is it safe to exercise

It is most likely safe to exercise if you have the following symptoms, although you should check with your doctor if in doubt.

Mild cold

A mild cold is a viral illness that affects the nose and throat. Although symptoms vary from person to person, most people suffer from a stuffy nose, sneezing and a mild cough when they have a cold (5).

If you are suffering from a mild cold, there is no reason to stay away from the gym as long as you have enough energy for your workout. If you feel that you don't have enough energy to complete your normal exercise program, then you may consider reducing the intensity or duration of your workout.

However, even if it's okay to exercise with a slight cold, you should keep in mind that you can transmit pathogens to others, which could make them ill.

Maintaining proper hygiene is a great way to prevent infecting others. Wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough (6).


An earache is a sharp, dull or burning pain that can occur in one or both ears. Although earaches in children are usually caused by infections, earaches in adults are more often caused by pain in other areas, such as the throat. This type of pain is known as referred pain, which is transmitted from the neck to the ear (7, 8).

Ear pain can be caused by sinusitis, sore throat, inflammation around the teeth or changes in pressure.

Exercising with ear pain is considered safe and harmless as long as the sense of balance is not affected and infection can be ruled out.

Certain types of ear infections can throw you off balance and cause fever and other symptoms that can make exercise unsafe. Before you start exercising, make sure you don't have any of these ear infections (9).

Most types of earache are simply uncomfortable and cause a feeling of pressure in the head. Although exercise is safe if you suffer from ear pain, you should try to avoid exercises that cause pressure in the sinus area.

Stuffy nose

Having a blocked nose can be frustrating and uncomfortable. If a stuffy nose is associated with a fever or other symptoms such as a cough with mucus sputum or bronchoconstriction, then you should consider taking a break from exercise. However, it's okay to exercise if you just have a blocked nose. In this case, some exercise might even help you to clear your nose and breathe better (10).

Ultimately, you should listen to your body to determine if you feel well enough to exercise with a stuffy nose.

Modifying your workout according to your energy levels is another option. Going for a brisk walk or cycling are good ways to stay active if you don't feel fit enough for your usual workout.

Always make sure you maintain good hygiene when you are at the gym, especially if you suffer from a runny nose. Wipe down equipment after use to prevent spreading germs.

Mild sore throat

Sore throats are usually caused by viral infections such as the common cold or flu (11). If a sore throat is accompanied by a fever, cough with mucus production or difficulty swallowing, then you should stop exercising until a doctor tells you it's okay to exercise.

However, if you are only suffering from a mild sore throat caused by something like a cold or allergies, it is safe to exercise.

If you are experiencing other symptoms such as fatigue or congestion, which are often associated with a cold, then you should consider reducing the intensity of your normal workouts.

Reducing the duration of exercise is another way to modify your activities if you feel well enough to exercise but don't have your usual stamina.

Staying hydrated with cold water is an excellent way to soothe a sore throat during exercise so that you can add additional activities to your day.

Summary: It is most likely okay to exercise if you are suffering from a mild cold, stuffy nose or sore throat, as long as you are not experiencing more serious symptoms.

When exercise is not recommended

Although exercise is generally harmless if you are suffering from a mild cold, exercise is not recommended if you experience any of the following symptoms.


When you have a fever, your body temperature rises above its normal range, which is in the region of 37 degrees Celsius. Fever can be caused by many things, but is most commonly caused by bacterial or viral infections (12, 13).

Fever can cause unpleasant accompanying symptoms such as weakness, dehydration, muscle pain and loss of appetite. Exercising with a fever increases the risk of dehydration and can further exacerbate the fever.

In addition to this, fever reduces muscle strength and endurance and impairs precision and coordination, increasing the risk of injury (14).

For all these reasons, it's best to stay away from the gym when you have a fever.

Regular coughing or coughing with mucus sputum

Coughing occasionally is a normal response to irritation or fluids in the airways and helps to keep the body healthy. However, more frequent coughing fits can be a symptom of a respiratory infection such as a cold, flu or even pneumonia.

While a cough that comes with a tickle in the throat is not a reason to stay away from the gym, a more persistent cough could be a sign that you need rest.

Although a dry sporadic cough may not affect your ability to perform certain exercises, more frequent coughing with mucus sputum is a reason to skip a training session.

A persistent cough can make it difficult to take a deep breath, especially if your heart rate increases during exercise. This makes it more likely that you will become short of breath and exhausted.

A cough with mucus sputum could be a sign of an infection or other condition that requires rest and should be treated by a doctor (15).

In addition, coughing is one of the main ways that illnesses like the flu are spread. If you go to the gym when you have a cough, you risk exposing your fellow exercisers to your pathogens.

Gastrointestinal infection

Illnesses such as stomach flu that affect the digestive system can cause serious symptoms that put exercise out of reach.

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and reduced appetite are all symptoms commonly associated with gastrointestinal infections. Diarrhea and vomiting increase the risk of dehydration, which is further exacerbated by physical activity (16).

Feeling weak is common with digestive tract conditions, increasing the risk of injury during exercise. In addition, gastrointestinal illnesses are highly contagious and can be easily transmitted to others (17).

If you feel restless during a gastrointestinal illness, light stretching or yoga at home is the safest option.

Flu symptoms

Flu is a contagious illness that affects the respiratory system. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, sore throat, aching limbs, fatigue, headache, cough and congested bronchial tubes.

Flu can be mild or severe depending on the degree of infection and can even be fatal in serious cases (18).

Although not everyone who gets the flu will experience a fever, those who do have a fever are at an increased risk of dehydration, which makes exercising a bad idea.

Although most people recover from the flu in less than two weeks, intense exercise can prolong the duration of the illness and delay recovery. This is because intense exercise temporarily suppresses the body's immune response (19).

In addition, the flu is a highly contagious virus that spreads primarily through small droplets that people with the flu release into the air when they talk, cough or sneeze.

If you have been diagnosed with the flu, it's best to take things easy and avoid any exercise for as long as you have symptoms of the illness.

Summary: If you are experiencing symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea or coughing with sputum, then taking time off training may be the best option for both your recovery and the safety of others.

When is it okay to start exercising again?

Many people are such that after recovering from an illness, they can't wait to get back to the gym - and with good reason. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of getting sick by improving the function of the immune system (20, 21).

However, it's important to allow your body to fully recover from an illness before returning to your regular exercise routine, and you shouldn't stress even if you can't exercise for an extended period of time.

Although some people worry that a few days without training will set back their progress and result in a loss of muscle and strength, in reality this is not the case.

Many studies have shown that for most people, muscle loss will only begin after about three weeks without exercise, while strength will begin to decline after about 10 days (22, 23, 24, 25).

As symptoms disappear, you should start to gradually incorporate more physical activity into your day, being careful not to overdo it.

On your first day at the gym after your sick leave, start with a shorter, less intense workout and make sure you drink enough during your workout to stay well hydrated.

Remember that your body may still feel weak, especially if you're recovering from the flu or stomach flu, and it's important to pay attention to how you feel.

If you are unsure whether you can safely exercise while recovering from being sick, you should ask your doctor for advice.

In addition, keep in mind that even though you may feel better, you may still be able to infect others with your germs. Adults with flu are able to infect others for up to 7 days after the first flu symptoms appear (26).

While it is beneficial to your overall health to return to the gym after an illness, it is important to listen to your body and your doctor when deciding whether you feel well enough for more intense activity.

Summary: Waiting until your symptoms are completely gone before gradually returning to exercise is a safe way to resume training after an illness.


If you are suffering from symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, fever or coughing with phlegm, then it is best to give your body a rest and take some time off from training to recover.

However, if you have only caught a mild cold or are suffering from a blocked nose, then there is no need to give up your training.

If you feel well enough to exercise but lack your usual energy, then reducing the intensity or length of your workouts are great ways to stay active.

To stay healthy and play it safe when you're sick, it's always best to listen to your body or follow your doctor's advice.




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