- Experts say you may not have to skip your workout if you have COVID-19, but they do recommend that you give your body and immune system time to rest and recover.
- If you test positive for COVID or have symptoms, you should avoid going to the gym and other public spaces to prevent spreading the virus to others.
- You’ll want to hold off on exercising if you have a fever, congestion, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
While the number of people with COVID changes daily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most people who contract the virus have mild illnesses and can recover at home without medical care.
If you’ve tested positive for COVID or only have mild symptoms, you might be wondering if you can carry on with your normal activities. For example, can you exercise if you have COVID?
While every person’s situation is different, experts say you may want to postpone your workout or do a lighter version of your current routine—whether it’s walking around the block, lifting weights at the gym, or attending a fitness class.
Can I Exercise If I Have COVID?
Anita Gupta, DO, MPP, PharmD, an adjunct assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told Verywell that people can still exercise if they have COVID, but there are a few key points they should think about first.
According to Gupta, not only do you have to think about how severe your symptoms are but whether you’ve been fully vaccinated.
While it might not affect how you feel during a workout, Gupta said that your vaccine status is key “because you want to make sure that you’re not exposing anyone else during that time of exercise. Even if you’re asymptomatic, you could pass it on.”
For example, whether a person is experiencing no, mild, or severe COVID symptoms, they can still potentially spread the virus to others—especially in settings like gyms, basketball courts, and other enclosed facilities.
Additionally, having COVID—whether they’re asymptomatic or symptomatic—can potentially affect a person’s breathing and respiratory system. Which, as Gupta pointed out, is how your body delivers oxygen and removes waste gases like carbon dioxide while you’re exercising.
Start Low, Go Slow
Tracy Zaslow, MD, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute and a team physician for the Angel City Football Club and the LA Galaxy, told Verywell that if someone tests positive for COVID or has symptoms, they should stick to activities of daily living and walking for the first three days of their illness.
“I think exercise is so important—but it’s okay to take a day off,” said Zaslow. “We want to make sure that people are listening to their bodies and respecting what they’re feeling. In those first few days, it’s not the time to push through and go beyond the level of comfort.”
Take It a Day at a Time
After the first few days, Zaslow said people can increase their level of activity based on how active they were before they got sick and the symptoms they’re having—whether they’re infectious or not.
“If it’s an asymptomatic case, then you can start to progress activities,” said Zaslow. “If it’s a mild case—mild being defined for example as just a runny or stuffy nose,—then you can progress a little further and start to be a little bit more vigorous with exercise.”
However, Zaslow said emphasized getting back in the game is a process. If a person is still healing from COVID, it’s “not like they should go back entirely to their full level of activity.”
Let Your Body Be Your Guide
If you test positive for COVID, Zaslow and Gupta said it’s best to take it easy, listen to your body, and make necessary adjustments to your exercise routine based on how you’re feeling.
Anita Gupta, DO, MPP, PharmD
Let your body take the time to rest for a few days and let the symptoms subside. You can always get back to your routine when your body and your immune system are ready.
— Anita Gupta, DO, MPP, PharmD
“You have to let your immune system rest and recover because rest is best,” said Gupta. “There are individuals that are high impact exercisers, and even at that point, it’s important to listen to your body.”
If you’re a regular gym-goer, dialing it back for a few days might be hard. But Gupta said it’s important to “let your body take the time to rest for a few days and let the symptoms subside. You can always get back to your routine when your body and your immune system are ready.”
Signs You Need to Take It Easy
Even if you have a mild case of COVID, Gupta and Zaslow said you should look out for symptoms that might be a sign you need to do a lighter workout or skip the gym for a day or two.
“These are the symptoms telling you that you need to slow down and take it easy,” said Gupta. “Exercise may not be the right thing right now and it might be best to rest for a few days until those symptoms actually slow down. You can get back to that low-impact exercise when the time is right.”
When to Skip Your Workout
Take it easy if you have these COVID symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing/breathlessness
- Heart palpitations
- Body aches
- Upset stomach
According to Zaslow, people also need to pay close attention to their symptoms during their first three days of infection to gauge the severity of their illness. For example, some COVID symptoms are linked to more serious problems like inflammation in the heart muscle (myocarditis).
“Those symptoms would include chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or heart racing. If any of those symptoms are occurring, then you could do real damage to the heart because the heart is a muscle,” said Zaslow.
When Is It Safe to Exercise After COVID?
According to Gupta, there is no set time frame for when it’s safe to return to your usual workout routine. However, once you’re not having symptoms, you’ll have a better sense of how long it will be before you can get back to your normal activity level.
Anita Gupta, DO, MPP, PharmD
Ultimately, you don’t want to be a risk to yourself, your own health, and other individuals around you.
— Anita Gupta, DO, MPP, PharmD
“No one’s really given a directive,” said Gupta “But I would say you want to be symptom-free and follow your local guidance” related to COVID.
Remember, too, that it’s not just about your well-being. Gupta added that your decision to hit the gym “comes back to not exposing others and not being positive [for COVID]. Ultimately, you don’t want to be a risk to yourself, your own health, and other individuals around you.”
After monitoring your symptoms and listening to your body, Zaslow recommends easing back into your routine with light exercise. For example, if you’re used to running six miles a day on an incline, try starting with running two miles on flat concrete.
That said, Zaslow also pointed out that resuming physical activity after COVID requires an individual approach because everyone’s fitness level, capabilities, and goals are different.
What This Means For You
If you test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms, you might want to skip the gym for a few days to give your body the rest it needs. Even if you don’t feel sick, testing positive for the virus means you could spread it to others if you’re out in public.
Experts say that if you’re not feeling your best, let your body guide you. You might be able to do a lighter workout for a few days if you only have mild symptoms.
That said, you should keep an eye out for signs that your body needs more of a break. If you’re not sure if you should work out with COVID or don’t know how to get back to your routine safely, talk to your provider.