Staying fit is always a good idea. But is it a good idea or even safe to exercise when you have a cold? If so, what type of exercise is recommended and what precautions should you take? Before you hit the gym or unroll your yoga mat with a case of the sniffles, let's see what the experts say.
As a general guide, mild to moderate physical activity is usually fine if you have a common cold. Symptoms of a common cold include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. If you have a cold, you should consider reducing the intensity or length of your exercise. For example, instead of going for a run, take a walk.
For more, advice, we spoke to Traci Gonzales, nurse practitioner at UTHealth in Houston and American Lung Association volunteer spokesperson.
"When it comes to working out with a cold, it's important to listen to your body. If you have what are considered common cold symptoms like runny nose, congestion and sore throat, then a workout may not be a bad idea if you feel up to it. Although, scaling it back a bit might be helpful," said Gonzales. "Many say they feel better after working out and notice improvement in symptoms such as congestion. However, make sure you are well hydrated. If you are dehydrated, symptoms could intensify when working out."
However, it's a different story if you're running a fever or have more severe symptoms.
"If you're running fever, have chills, body aches or a cough, consider skipping the workout for a day or two and allow your body to heal, particularly if you have other underlying health conditions," explained Gonzales. "If you have an underlying medical condition such as asthma, COPD or heart disease you may want to check with your doctor first, as exercise may worsen an underlying medical problem.
An easy rule of thumb to remember is, if your symptoms are "above the neck" like sniffles or congestion, it's probably a cold, and OK to exercise. If your symptoms are "below the neck" such as hacking cough, chest congestion and an upset stomach (especially if accompanied by a fever), that could indicate a more serious infection, like the flu, and you should take a few days off.
"Listen to your body, if you feel like you can't handle it, take a break and allow the body to rest and heal. Whether you decide to rest or work out, make sure you hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Also, be mindful of spreading your germs if you decide to work out in an area with other people. Cold and flu viruses are highly contagious and easily spread."
Exercising and staying fit is a great way to improve your overall health, and according to some studies can even boost your immune system. But when some of those germs do get through your defenses, use a little caution, don't overdo it, and soon you'll be back on your regular fitness routine.
Blog last updated: October 10, 2023