When Are You Too Sick to Hike?

My head was a little stuffy, there was a tickle in my throat, and there was a hint of wheeze in my chest. Otherwise, I felt good. And it was a perfect day to hike. What the heck, I thought, I’ll be fine.

It’s a situation we face from time to time: the spirit is eager, the body … meh. What’s an active body to do?

We turned to our buddy Google for some advice on when it’s OK to exercise — and when it’s not — when you aren’t feeling one hundred percent. And here’s what we gleaned from WebMD.com, the Mayo Clinic and from avid walker, runner and Road Runner’s Club of America certified marathon coach Wendy Bumgardner.

  • It’s generally OK to exercise if your malady is from the neck up: runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, minor sore throat. You know, your basic cold.
  • It’s generally not OK if your symptoms are below the neck: chest congestion, hacking cough, anything intestinal.
  • Don’t exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.
  • A fever can be especially problematic: your body temperature is already elevated, exercise will raise it even more. Definitely take a time-out if your temperature is higher than 101 F.
  • Think twice if you’re taking cold medication, even for a neck-up ailment. The medications tend to elevate your heart rate, which will be further elevated during a workout.
  • Dial it back. If you clear yourself to play, consider shortening your workout or decreasing the intensity.
  • Avoid the gym. Whatever’s going on, avoid the gym; it’s too easy to spread germs in so many ways.
  • How long? A simple cold should run its course in a couple of days. The flu can have lingering effects for 10 days to two weeks.
  • To help avoid getting sick, exercise some preventative measures. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of regular exercise three to four times a week can raise your immunity. On the other hand, longer, more intense training sessions can lower your immunity. If you’re at the gym, protect others by wiping down your equipment after exercising and protect yourself by washing your hands after your workout. During your workout, avoid wiping face sweat with your hands.

In my case, I might have been fine that day with a short, mellow hike at an easy pace. Instead, we did 14 miles, including a 5.6-mile, 3,700-foot vertical climb up to 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of South Dakota’s Black Hills. My Fitbit recorded 44,486 steps for the day. The following day? 1,730 steps, most of which were between bed and the medicine cabinet. I shouldn’t have ignored that wheezing in my chest.

Next time, though, I’ll know.

Hopefully, though, you’re feeling fit, fabulous and ready to hike. Check out our upcoming GetHiking! trips here.

Happy (and healthy) trails,


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