Monday, October 31, 2011

Ask Us Anything: Should I Exercise When I'm Sick?

"My husband and I are having a disagreement. He runs outdoors 5 days a week. He was feeling unwell yesterday and feels worse today. I think that he should take a break from exercising when he is ill, but he says that exercise will make him feel better. Which of us is right?"

Physical Therapist Richard Szabala Responds:

There are two schools of thought here.

We generally exercise to improve our health and feel better. However, exercising does require increased circulation. When our body is fighting illness, the body increases circulation to the virus to fight off the illness. Will exercising interfere with the body's ability to fight the illness?

According to advice from the Mayo Clinic, if it is a minor illness, such as a cold, you can exercise and it may make you feel better. But if the symptoms of the illness are below the neck, including stomach viruses and chest congestion, or if you are running a fever, you should rest. You may consider decreasing the intensity of your exercise. Instead of running, perhaps take a walk.

It takes about two weeks without exercise for your body to start to lose strength and endurance that you may have built up through your exercise program, so taking a rest will not effect you in that way.

When in doubt, it is best to listen to your body. If you really don't feel like exercising when you are sick, it may be a signal from the body to take a break.

– Richard Szabala PT, OCS

Richard Szabala is the senior physical therapist at AthletiCare Orchard Park.

If you have a question about your health, click here to ask our experts.


  1. what can you do if you want to lose weight, but only have time for walking in the day, and i get so exhusted after walking for 30 min, i just want to lay down, and i get a massive headache afterwards.

  2. I would recommend that you contact your physician. Fatigue and headaches after 30 minutes of walking are generally not a normal response to that level of exercise. Those symptoms can be signs of a more serious health problem.


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