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Should I be exercising with a cold?

It is that time of year when we all eventually succumb to the inevitable – the common cold. The question most of us want the answer to is: should I be exercising with a cold?

There are two factors at play here. The first is what is good for you as the person with the cold; the second is how contagious you are to the people around you. It is all very well battling through the symptoms of a runny nose and sore throat to bravely do a workout, but if your germs then infect all those other gym goers, that is both unfair and unhealthy.

Here are some key messages:

Exercising with a cold can make you feel better in the short term but it will not help you get rid of the cold virus any quicker. Medical advice generally agrees that it will not cause you problems if you insist on exercising with a cold, so long as you do not have other, underlying health issues, such as asthma or heart disease. In fact, if you are well hydrated, exercise can break up congestion. The reverse happens if you are de-hydrated: congestion worsens and you may take longer to shift that infection.

Common cold gym etiquette

If you do go to the gym when you have the cold virus, then follow the common cold etiquette to avoid spreading germs: cover your mouth when coughing or cough into your arm. Do not cover your mouth with your bare hands, that is a quick way to spread germs. Throw all tissues used into a waste bin and wash your hands with soap and water or a hand sanitiser before and after your workout.

Break the routine

Stay flexible with your exercise regime when exercising with a cold. If today is the day you planned a tough cardio-vascular workout but you are a wracking, coughing mess, then swap that cv session for something gentler that is less likely to stir up the bronchioles in the lungs. You will not lose fitness over night, or even over a few days.

There is a belief that you can sweat a cold out of your system. Again, we turn to general consensus of medical advice which says that sweating does not get rid of a cold, the most important elements in the fight against a cold are rest and staying hydrated.

When you are sick, listen to your body:

You can exercise if:

You want to and have the energy.
Your symptoms are mild, such as just a runny nose.
You have been fever-free for 24 hours.

Avoid exercise when:

You have a fever.
Your body aches.
You have a cough.
You have flu symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
You have a cold along with chronic health concerns, such as heart disease or asthma.

Exercising with a cold: the danger signs.

If you do insist on exercising with a cold, be aware of danger signs that your cold is becoming something more serious. You should seek medical attention if, during exercise you experience chest pain or [a feeling like] indigestion, difficulty catching your breath, wheezing, feeling faint, worsening body aches, or cola-colored urine.

If you can’t bear to take time off from your fitness routine to nurse a cold, it won’t hurt you to throw on your trainers and workout clothes and do something. But consider swapping a run for a walk; a weights session for stretching; or boxercise for yoga. Just listen to your body, and oblige if you think you need a rest day. You’ll be back on the treadmill soon enough.