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Can I exercise if I have a cold?

Wendy Batts
Fitness Specialist

In general it isn’t recommended that one works out while they’re feeling ill. Exercise is controlled stress on the body that it must recover from for the hours or even days following. If your body is devoting its resources to recovering from a cold, don’t exercise and give it yet another thing to recover from. Let your immune system work at full strength to battle the cold and hit the gym once you are well. You’ll probably be back to your old workouts sooner if you get adequate rest anyway.

Exercising with minor cold symptoms is relatively safe, particularly if your symptoms are above the neck (such as a stuffy nose). However, it is extremely important to listen to your body, reduce the intensity and duration of your workouts, and stay properly hydrated. In addition, certain cold medications can elevate your heart rate. An elevated heart rate also occurs during exercise. The combination of exercise and cold medications (decongestants) causes your heart to pump very hard, and may cause shortness of breath.

It is not recommended to exercise if you have increased chest congestion, coughing or wheezing, shortness of breath, fever, or dizziness.

Experts from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) say that a mild cold shouldn't keep you from exercising. On the contrary, if your cold hasn't reached your chest, a moderate workout, such as a brisk walk, may help you feel better. Of course, the best way to avoid getting sick is to engage in regular physical activity in the first place.

If you find yourself sick with a cold, you may wonder how easy you're supposed to take it. Should you just rest on the couch, or is it okay to work out when you're all stuffy?

Most healthcare providers agree that if your symptoms are limited to the area above your neck, it's generally fine to break a sweat if you feel up to it. But if your body feels achy or you have a fever or are really congested, it might be better to get some rest.

As long as you feel comfortable working out and you're not exposing others to your cold, you should be fine doing moderate exercise. If you have questions about a specific routine or think something may be out of the ordinary with your symptoms, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

Sometimes it's hard to know whether working out could make a minor sore throat or the sniffles worse. Luckily, there's a rule of thumb you can follow. In her book “Outdoor Fitness,” exercise expert Tina Vindum recommends an above-the-neck check.

Here's How It Works:

"If your symptoms are from the neck up, ask yourself: 'Do I feel like working out?'" recommends Vindum. If the answer is yes, then go for it. But if your symptoms are all below the neck, it's difficult to breathe, your chest feels tight, or you're wheezing and coughing -- don't exercise. Give yourself a break and rest up.

Give Colds the Cold Shoulder. The best way to keep your fitness routine intact? Avoid a cold in the first place. Try these immune-boosting tips:

  • Get your ZZZs. You'll be saying nite-nite to colds.
  • Eat yogurt. It helps stop a cold short.
  • Move your feet. A 45-minute walk 5 days a week can reduce your risk of catching a cold.
  • Be positive. Colds hate an inner glow.

 

 

It all depends on the severity and the symptoms. As a rule, I never exercise when I have a fever or a chest cold. If the symptoms are above the neck (a head cold) and do not include fever, you can stay with your exercise program. I recommend lowering the intensity and the duration as a safety precaution.

It is critical to eat right, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest to ensure proper recovery. If you are on the fence, my suggestion would be to take it easy for a few days and resume when your body tells you it's ready.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.