Should you exercise when you are sick?

Exercise plays an important role in maintaining good health. But does exercising when you are sick help or hinder your recovery? Everyone wants a speedy recovery when they are unwell, but sometimes it can be tricky to know when it’s okay to power on with your exercise routine or when to take a few days off. In some circumstances it is perfectly fine to carry on. But in other circumstances it can be quite detrimental.

Above the neck rule

I like to use the ‘above the neck rule’ when navigating symptoms. This means that if you are experiencing mild symptoms above your neck, such as sneezing, a mild cough, headache or a stuffy nose, it’s likely to be okay to engage in light to moderate exercise. Alternatively, if you have symptoms below your neck, such as a fever, a chesty cough, nausea, body aches or diarrhoea, then it is wise to err on the side of caution and skip exercise until you feel better. These are all signs that your body needs to rest and recuperate. Keep in mind that some of these symptoms are also associated with COVID-19, so it is important to get tested where appropriate and avoid spreading germs to others.



If you are going to exercise when you are mildly unwell, you might find that you need to reduce the intensity and duration of your workout. Shorter bouts of exercise are a great way to still keep active, even if it is at a lower level of exertion than usual. Once you start to feel better, you can begin increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of your exercise sessions. Our bodies are very good at telling us when we’re not okay. Keep an eye out for signs and symptoms and adjust your exercise program as appropriate.


Blood glucose levels

In addition to modifying your exercise program, it’s also important to be aware of the changes to blood glucose levels in response to illness. When you have diabetes, illnesses and infections can increase your blood glucose levels. You may need to make some changes to your diabetes management to help prevent fluctuations. It is recommended that all people living with diabetes have a sick day management plan so you can act at the earliest sign of illness. This may include checking your blood glucose levels more often and adjusting your medication, with the support of your doctor and credentialled diabetes educator.

Be safe

Remember, if you’re unsure whether you should be exercising or not, always check with your doctor. An accredited exercise physiologist can also help you progress and regress an exercise program during times of illness, so that you can participate in suitable activities.


By Hayley Nicholson, Ex Phys, CDE

Join our community of over 33,000 people living with diabetes