Should your children exercise when sick?

Posted on 1 June 2018

Should a little sniffle be reason enough to make them skip that tennis lesson?

Regular, moderate exercise is a great immune booster for children and adults alike. It’s actually one of the recommended ways to keep kids healthy during cold and flu season. It can be a wonderful preventative measure for colds and flu, but if a virus has already reared its head, is exercise still advisable for your child?

Studies show that moderate exercise, equivalent to brisk walking or leisurely cycling, has no negative impact on someone suffering from the common cold, which includes symptoms like:

  • Congestion
  • A cough
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • A mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • A slightly sore throat

In other words, if the symptoms are generally above the neck, it’s generally safe to exercise moderately.

However, more vigorous activity, like running, swimming and gym exercise, may put strain on your child’s heart and immune system when coupled with a cold and should be avoided. Some decongestant medication commonly used in colds can also raise your child’s heart rate further.

Exercise is a no-no when your child has symptoms indicating something more serious like a flu:

  • Fever or chills – the body is already hard at work fighting an infection if there is a fever present. Exercise would only put the body under more strain, weakening its immune response.
  • Congested chest
  • Wet coughing and wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Chest tightness, pressure or trouble breathing
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or difficulty with balance
  • Symptom onset occurs abruptly
  • Your child shows more severe symptoms over the coming days rather than improving

Children are more vulnerable to infection (and infections are more often severe in children) than adults for a number of reasons: their immune systems are not fully developed until they are over five years old; they are not as diligent about proper hygiene as adults and they are exposed to germs more frequently (for example at daycare).

For this reason, you should be even more conservative with your child’s symptoms and take them to a medical professional if you’re unsure whether it’s flu or a cold.

After a fever and any body aches have subsided, always wait a full week before gradually getting them back into moderate physical activity. A flu-weakened body needs time and rest to heal fully.

If you are in any way unsure of whether your child is well enough to exercise, rather err on the side of caution.


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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  1. Joubert Hofmeyr says:




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