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Should You Work Out When You Have a Cold?

Woman blowing her nose while exercising in the park despite being sick.
TheBlvckWolf/Shutterstock

Falling ill when you’ve got a good workout routine going can be frustrating—you don’t want to stop, but sometimes you really have to. Here’s how to decide if and when to power through your cold.

Understanding the connection between your symptoms and exercise is important to maximizing your quick recovery while minimizing the impact your cold has on your fitness routine. While it’s always best to discuss your situation with your doctor first, these are some general guidelines to keep in mind next time you catch a cold during another gym-loving phase.

When It’s Safe to Work Out

An easy to follow rule that doctors will often give sick patients who want to work out is this: If the symptoms are “above the neck,” you’re good to go. This means you’re free to continue with your exercise regimen if you’re experiencing the common symptoms of a mild cold, such as a runny nose, sneezing, headaches, and a sore throat.

However, you should still lower the intensity of your workouts. Since your body is busy fighting off an infection, your energy levels will likely drop, and your immune system will be working overtime to bring your system back to its top-notch condition. Instead of running; you could opt for walking; instead of high-intensity training, you could do some yoga or pilates. Moderate exercise makes the most of your limited energy, and it can relieve your nasal congestion by opening up your airways.

If you’re a gym-goer, be mindful of your germs. To prevent passing on your cold to others, make sure to wash your hands regularly, wipe down every piece of equipment you use, and sneeze into your elbow if you have to. If you’re a frequenter of fitness classes and you’re constantly sneezing, it’s probably best to skip the lessons for a few days and exercise at home if your body really craves it.

When It’s Best Not to Work Out

Following the general rule from above, when your symptoms are “below the neck,” you should call it a day (or a week) and take some time off. Symptoms such as fever, chest congestion, a stomach bug, or body aches, indicate your body is not in the best condition to withstand any form of exercise. As such, you should rest and use up all your available energy to heal and recover as quickly as possible.

And while you might still be eager to get back into your workout routine, wait long enough for all your symptoms to disappear first because sudden, high-intensity workouts could suppress your immune system if done before you’re fully recovered.

Regular exercise is certainly good for your health and can help you stay strong and healthy enough to fight off a number of diseases. However, knowing when you should dial it back or stop altogether for a short time is just as important for your well-being. Our bodies are as complex as they are delicate and need some looking after if we want them to last in tip-top shape for many, many years.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »

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