Should You Use a Treadmill When You’re Sick?

Treadmill Running

By Simon Gould

Whether you walk, jog or run on a treadmill, you don’t want to break up your routine even if you’re sick. Many people measure their exercise in miles or minutes per week. The last thing you want to do is to lose days due to sickness when you still may be able to exercise. This is especially the case if you’re in the middle of a workout schedule and you’re seeing results.

When it’s ok to use a treadmill

The sickness I refer to are more common ailments like flu, coughs, colds and more. Intermountain Healthcare have a lovely little basic rule of thumb. That is the above and below the neck rule. If the sickness originates above the neck like a cold or blocked nose, then you should be able to exercise. If it originates below the neck then don’t.

Further above the neck ailments all relate to the ear, nose and throat. So if you have earache, runny nose, sneezing, blocked nose, and also headaches. If you’re able to then I would advise that, even though you should be able to exercise with these problems, take some medication to alleviate the symptoms. You won’t want to run with your head or ear hurting.

If your symptoms are quite bothersome, then you may want to reduce the intensity or the length of your workout. Consider running a shorter distance or jogging instead. Consider less impact if a headache is more like a migraine like an elliptical or exercise bike. With a severe migraine, don’t be afraid to take the day off. It’s unpleasant enough as it does, you don’t want to make it worse.

If you’re exercising in a gym, practice good hygiene standards. Sanitize the treadmill after you’ve used it. If you’re sneezing a lot, you may not be the most popular person in there. Make sure you wash your hands before you get on the treadmill. Every gym usually has wipes for everyone to use to wipe the equipment. Just be aware of everyone else so you’re not spreading your illness to others.

When you should avoid a treadmill

The below the neck rule means with certain illnesses you either won’t feel like or should not, exercise. This includes illnesses like vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and lung problems like bronchitis. Coughing may also be something you may not want to exercise with. You won’t be able to do your normal routine as well if you don’t get enough air in your lungs due to coughing.

With flu, you’re sometimes unwilling to get out of bed, let alone get on your treadmill. So don’t get on and allow yourself to recover. You really need to think about how you feel and ask your doctor if exercise is really possible. You’re not going to get much done if you cough at the slightest exertion. So you could be sidelined for several weeks with some illnesses.

A fever has been included as a no no for exercise. This is the case especially if your temperature is high. If your body or muscles ache then avoidance should be a consideration. Unless it’s due to delayed onset muscle soreness from over doing exercise. You can still go for a lower intensity routine for a few days.

For those illnesses where you do take a break, then how many rest days should there be? Well there’s no hard and fast rule, but I would say you want to be symptom free especially for lung problems. This is obviously the case as well with vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes you may need a week or longer.

Don’t worry too much about losing fitness if you have a period of rest. The Science of Fitness says that it takes about 2 to 3 weeks for cardiovascular endurance training to significantly wear off. So even if you take a week off, you don’t lose too much of your fitness. There may be a small decrease but you’ll soon get it back once you start exercising again.


If you’ve got a regular routine it’s horrible to suffer any sickness as it affects you significantly. Perhaps you’ve gotten used to your daily runs. Or you’re building up a couch to 5k program and rest sets you back. In that case just repeat the week you were doing before and you’ll be back on track. Same with those experienced runners, repeat the week and go from there.

We are fortunate that as we exercise regularly we have improved immune systems and are less likely to get sick. But it does happen sometimes when the seasons change and rather than see it as the end of the world. We need to just allow ourselves to recover and then get back to normal. If your sickness is above the neck then hopefully your training hasn’t stopped.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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