Rest or Exercise? How to Choose - Chi Running

Rest or Exercise? How to Choose

Posted by Katherine Dreyer on Wed Nov 13th, 2013, 8 comments

Rest or Exercise? How to Choose

When you are tired, on the verge of possibly getting a cold, or recovering from a cold or other viral infection, it can be hard to know whether you need to rest or exercise. How can you choose which is best for you?

Choosing implies an “either-or” scenario.  We’d like to suggest that you don’t choose, but that you do both: keep moving even when you’re resting (except when you’re sleeping) and rest more during your exercise.

Prevention First
First, think about prevention of illness. Exercise has been shown to raise the level of T cells, your body’s first line of defense against infection. But, if you’re feeling at all at risk of cold or flu, keep the level of intensity low. The idea is to support your system with movement, not stress your system out with an intense workout  - the same philosophy behind ChiWalking® and ChiRunning®. Move in an optimal way to support the flow of chi without putting unnecessary work on your body. Your workouts should always keep the big picture in mind.

Getting enough rest is also crucial to preventing illness, as is reducing sugar intake and supporting your system with nutrient-packed foods. 

The key, of course, is Body Sensing. The more you can listen to your body and not let your mind make the decision with a lot of “I should’s” or “I should not’s” the better you’ll be at keeping healthy. By practicing, you’ll become an expert at interpreting the signals your body is sending you. Start by just feeling the sensations in your body. If you can stick with it for 30 seconds, without your mind taking over with its very black and white point of view, your body will tell you the subtleties of what it needs: water, a warm nourishing meal, gentle movement, fresh air, a brisk walk that might become an effortless run. You might need a good solid running or walking workout.

If you’re tired, but not sick:

If you normally run or walk in the morning, but are tired, should you sleep in or get out and exercise? We suggest you sleep in a bit, but then make sure at some point during the day you get some movement in. If you normally run, do a shorter walk-run for just 20 minutes. Walking or running very gently could build your immune system just enough to stave off the viral attack. Walk at lunch. Just do your Body Looseners or some yoga or T’ai Chi instead of your normal workout. See how that feels and if your body wants to walk and then maybe run. Get sleep and keep moving!!

It also depends on the “kind” of tired you are experiencing. If you are physically tired, you may need more rest, but if you’re tired from mental stress, working too hard and thinking too much, and if you have not had enough physical exercise, then moving gently is your best choice. Movement will allow stress and blocked chi to flow, will get your lungs and heart working and your blood flowing.

If you’re already sick:

Rule of thumb is infection that causes fever or is in your chest or body means you need a lot more rest. Forget your normal workout, but don’t stop moving altogether. A little bit of yoga, T’ai chi or qigong is OK if you feel up to it. Rest as much possible with gentle movement between naps.

If the illness is basically a cold or all above the neck, without a fever or congestion in the chest, then you can continue to exercise, but take your normal intensity down a few notches. Walk-run rather than just run. Move without force. Exercise for less time.

Always start with Body Looseners and a walk and pay close attention to your body’s messages. Add duration and pick up the pace, possibly to a run, only when you’re sure it will make you feel better.

Recovering from illness:

There’s nothing worse than beginning to feel better and have the infection flare up again. Recovery is like new shoots in a spring garden – they need lots of care to grow strong. But, not moving can be as depleting as moving too much at this stage. Be gentle, build slowly, but don’t loose the momentum and forget to exercise while you catch up with everything else in your life that got behind.

Movement is the key to good health…keep moving, keep listening to the nuances of your body and become your own best healer. Your body knows exactly what it needs. Your job is to learn to listen.


  • chirunning,
  • chiwalking,
  • Walk-Run

8 CommentsLeave a comment below

Shannon Sodano Nov 14th, 2013 02:42pm

This is great.  It’s funny how it is so tempting to make hard and fast decisions all of the time.  I know that things tend to go better when they allow more of a natural flow.  It can seem a lot harder mentally but physically feel so much better.  Thank you for your wisdom!

Anna Corbett Nov 14th, 2013 03:25pm

Thank you so much for this Katherine!  Your clear specificity with different situations is extremely helpful!  I look forward to passing it along to my clients, friends and family.

Having been a runner for over 35 years, I discovered and have been practicing Chi Walking/Running for over 10 years now.  I highly recommend it to everyone who will listen! We were just practicing it while hiking in Yosemite last week.

2 years ago I took a nasty fall in a parking lot while quickly running an errand…not Chi Running.  My knee was severally swollen and painful. 

With my x-rays in front of him, the sports medicine doc indicated everything looked fine.  And…proclaimed, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep doing it.  At age 62 your knees have absolutely no damage!”  I got to tell him about Chi Running! 

I can’t thank you enough for the difference you all are making for so many of us!  Surrounding you with blessings of gratitude and JOY!


Penny de Estrada Nov 14th, 2013 06:23pm

Thank you!A great answer for the dilemma everybody has had: “I should train, but I realy feel awful! What should I do?”

Mary Shepard Nov 15th, 2013 10:20am

Perfect timing for this article.  I love to run and I’m home sick from work today with a head cold and fever. Once the fever breaks, I’m going to try an easy run/walk.

I love the advice to sleep in if you’re feeling tired, but not sick. The only downside to that advice, for me, is that I alwwwaaays feel tired when I wake up - regardless of my health!

I always run/walk unless I have pain that’s pretty significant. If I can’t foam roll the pain away - then I’d better rest.

I am 75 - I have been walking 2 miles a day for 13 years. I recently had an arthritic flare which has taken me out of the game. I thought I was doing the right thing with my walking but my right knee gave out anyway. I will follow this blog and all info about chi-walking as I mend. Thanks.

alan miller Nov 6th, 2015 06:02pm

Great advice, Katherine. We have to learn to listen to our bodies and have the common sense to hold back when we feel ill. I had a dear running friend who prided himself on having a 20 year streak of NEVER missing a run. He confided that he would run even with a high fever. Once he ran in the pouring , driving rain with a fever to get One mile so he could keep his streak alive. To me that was on the verge of crazy, compulsive. Anyway, my dear friend and running partner passed away from a heart attack several years ago. In retrospect, he often created more stress for himself in other areas of life. We can learn from his example as how Not to be rigid , and compulsive when it comes to caring for our bodies, minds, and souls.

Kate Brereton Nov 7th, 2015 09:27am

Great article and since I have begun chi running program with Angela James my Vancouver instructor my mindset has been changing where I listen and respect more what my body is telling me rather than often just powering on:)

What are your thoughts?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Top 100 Runnning Blogs award
Danny's Talks & Events image

Danny's Talks & Events

View schedule


Over a million happy runners can't be wrong.

Watch our FREE video series and run easier and better than you ever imagined. Feel the difference in your next run!