The Best And Worst: 6 Exercises You Should & Shouldn’t Do When You’re Sick

Feeling under the weather when you want to work out can be frustrating. Or, on the flip side, if you’re feeling sick, working out may be the last thing you want to do. Too much physical exertion and you end up feeling even worse, but not enough physical activity could actually prolong your illness and stunt your recovery.

“Many people think they shouldn’t work out when sick, but truth is, a little light exercise can help boost healthy cells to cure that cold,” says personal trainer Jolene Matthews.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have a flu or the fever, stay in bed. But if your sickness is above the neck, say just the sniffles, a little bit of light exercise can make you feel better.

Next time you’re not feeling your best, but trying to figure out the best course of action, consider these best and worst exercises for when you’re feeling sick.

Best Exercises When You’re Sick

1. Walking

A brisk walk is one of the best exercises you can do when you’re sick. Cardiovascular exercise can help clear your sinuses and open nasal passages, making an immune-boosting 20 minute walk a great choice when you’re feeling stuffed up.

taking a walk photo
Photo by jenny downing

2. Yoga

Since yoga is gentle and meditative, it is often a good choice when you’re sick. “[Yoga poses] create space in the lungs, clear nasal passages, and help keep the body healthy,” says Kelly Clifton Turner, Regional Program Manager of Yoga Six. Avoid hot yoga, and try to stick to less vigorous classes such as restorative or yin yoga.

yoga photo
Photo by Synergy by Jasmine

3. Pilates

“One of the six principles of Pilates is ‘Breath,’ so I find Pilates to be a great workout when sick,” says certified pilates instructor Nicole LaBonde. “Pilates emphasizes breathing in and out through the nose, so the entire respiratory system is constantly involved.”

pilates photo
Photo by redcreadeporte

Worst Exercises When You’re Sick

1. Lifting Weights

“Stay away from weight training,” say Matthews. “Your body needs to focus on getting well. Exerting too much energy and pressing your body to heal ripped muscles will only prolong the process of getting well.”

weights photo
Photo by bepositivelyfit

2. Endurance Training

Going for a really long run puts a lot of stress on your body, so it’s not the best idea to push yourself for long periods of time when you’re feeling sick. A study published in the Journal Of Applied Sciences found that after prolonged exercise of 1.5 hours or more, your immune system’s strength is decreased for up to 24 hours.

running shoes photo
Photo by R.Duran

3. High-Intensity Training

“High intensity workouts should be avoided at all costs when you are sick,” says Antonia DeSantis, Director of the Cycle Programming at Studio Three. “Any exercise that requires too much effort like competitive-type exercises like CrossFit where you would push yourself without realizing it [should] be avoided.”

cross fit photo
Photo by Phynyght Studio
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About the Author
Carina Wolff
Carina is a health and wellness journalist based in Los Angeles. When she’s not writing, doing yoga, or exploring mountains and beaches, she spends her time cooking and creating recipes for her healthy food blog, Kale Me Maybe. Carina is also an ongoing writer for Bustle, Reader's Digest, FabFitFun, and more.

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