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Backpacking Fitness

Exercising While Sick

When you can and cannot workout with an illness

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Last week I wrote about the satisfaction that came from playing hooky and going for a hard 2-hour run in the middle of a Monday. (Read it , here.) While I picked up a heady endorphin rush from that jaunt, it seems I also picked up a nasty cough/viral infection in my throat that left me hacking my head off for well over a week. It wasn’t pleasant, and my family really didn’t enjoy having me around the house—I quarantined myself to the living room couch to give everyone some peace at night.

But I didn’t stop exercising. Sure, I dialed back the intensity to “easy-to-moderate,” but I knew I could still run and keep my fitness. The general rule I’ve gleaned over the years of interviewing doctors on this stuff is this: if I’ve got symptoms from my throat to my head, I go ahead and keep exercising but take it easy on my lungs and muscles. All I want to do is keep whatever fitness and strength I have while my body deals with the bug. If I have symptoms below my throat, like a fever that makes my body ache or a respiratory problem, I shut down and do nothing and try to get as much rest as possible.

To get specific, here are the guidelines published by The American College of Sports Medicine:

  • In general, if the symptoms are from the neck up, moderate exercise is probably acceptable and, some researchers would even argue, beneficial, while bedrest and a gradual progression to normal training are recommended when the illness is systemic. If in doubt as to the type of infectious illness, individuals should consult a physician.


So I kept running this past week. Whether or not that prolonged my illness, I can’t say for sure, but I do know that I feel better now, and I’m ready to pick up the speed in my marathon-training plan. And it’s nice to know that I don’t have to take step back and build up my stamina to do it.