Should you exercise with a cold? We explore the dos and don'ts of exercising with a cold and whether it could help your recovery.
Blocked or runny nose, throat like sandpaper, a bit of a cough and a banging headache. Sound familiar? The common cold affects most adults at least once a year. A cold lasts for 10 days, on average.
If you feel a sniffle coming on, can you exercise through it and recover sooner? Or will working out with a cold hinder your recovery? Read on to find out as we explore the science behind exercise and the common cold.
Please note, this post is about exercising with a common cold. If you think you may have coronavirus, please check the latest government guidance on coronavirus for up to date advice.
According to research, it is ok to exercise with a cold, if you have mild symptoms that are “above the neck”. For example a blocked or runny nose, a bit of a sore throat and a slight cough or sneezing.
You might want to work out a little more gently than usual, however. Don’t push yourself too hard. See how you feel after a moderate workout. Listen to your body. And if you start feeling worse, stop exercising.
Avoid exercising with a cold, if your symptoms have spread to your chest. If you have “below the neck” symptoms like a bad cough or chest congestion, rest is best. Try not to put unnecessary pressure on your respiratory system, which working out will do.
Similarly, if you have a fever, muscle or joint aches, it is best not to workout. Your symptoms have spread system-wide, which indicates a more serious infection.
Working out with a fever will increase your temperature and dehydrate you, making your symptoms worse. Your muscle strength will be reduced, increasing the chance of injury. Exercise could also make you dizzy, so it is best to rest up and wait out the cold.
When you have mild, above the neck cold symptoms, moderate exercise may make you feel better, temporarily. But it is unlikely to speed up your recovery.
When you work out, your breathing rate increases and you take in more oxygen. Exercise helps open up your nasal passages, relieving that blocked up feeling, for a short time.
Working out may bring temporary relief to cold symptoms. However, the idea that you can “sweat out a cold” is unproven.
One study found that exercising made people feel that their cold symptoms had improved. But they did not recover from their cold any faster. There is not currently scientific evidence that exercise can cure a cold, or shorten its duration.
That said, keeping fit could help prevent you from getting a cold in the first place. A study of 1000 people found physically active people were half as likely to catch a cold. This was compared with those who didn’t exercise.
So, does exercising with a cold help or hinder your recovery? Let’s summarise what science tells us.
It is fine to take moderate exercise if you have mild “above the neck symptoms” such as a blocked or runny nose and sore throat. Exercise may ease symptoms such as nasal congestion, temporarily. But there is no evidence that exercising with a cold can speed up recovery.
If you have “below the neck” or system-wide symptoms, it is best to avoid exercise and rest up. For example, chest congestion, a severe cough, a fever or muscle aches. Exercise could make these symptoms worse.
This blog post does not constitute medical advice. If you are unsure whether you should exercise with a cold, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. This is particularly important if you have an underlying health condition.