Is it OK to exercise when you’ve got a cold? Well, yes — within reason​

Exercising with a cold? / Image source: pixabay.com
Exercising with a cold? / Image source: pixabay.com

Is it OK to exercise when you've got a cold? Well, yes — within reason

Last week’s newsletter listed one of the unexpected benefits of exercise as being able to fight off colds and flu. But what if you succumb to one of the many viruses that are going around? As the weather changes, it’s rare that any of us aren’t affected by seasonal colds and the flu. But should you continue your exercise routine when you find yourself coughing and sneezing?

Experts generally divide colds into two categories: those with symptoms above the neck (runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat) and those with symptoms below the neck (cough, shortness of breath, chest congestions). If you have a cold that’s primarily located in your head, then you are safe to exercise. If you have any of the below-the-neck symptoms, you should put off exercising until you feel better. Additionally, you shouldn’t exercise if you have a fever, body aches, or fatigue. 

There are few studies that say that a workout can actually help you heal. If you have a head cold, you may even feel better following your workout. Exercise opens up your blood vessels and lifts your mood. Many people also feel exercise alleviates congestion. If you are inclined, and your symptoms don’t interfere with your heart rate or your ability to control your breath, you can keep working out throughout your cold. 

If you decide that you want to exercise, there are some routines that are better than others.

A workout where you’re breathing heavily, sweating, working hard, and feeling uncomfortable creates a stress response in the body. When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to that stress. Over time, this progressive adaptation is precisely what makes us stronger. But when we’re sick, this type of stress can be more than our immune systems can handle.

If you feel like sticking with your cardio routine, I recommend decreasing your intensity. Working out on a stationary bike, elliptical, or even running at a slower pace can still be beneficial. You can still strength train but gear your workout towards more comfortable, lighter weights. Stretching, yoga (but not yoga in a heated room), and pilates are also fine if you’re struggling through a cold. 

And no matter what you do, make sure that you wipe down that equipment well to stop spreading your germs to your fellow gym-goers.  

If you feel like you would be better off curling up with a book, Netflix, and a cup of soup or tea, then you may not want to push yourself. But a cold is not an excuse to give up on your routine and your goals. There’s nothing wrong with staying active as your body fights off a head cold. It can boost your mood and even help you heal. Still, this is a time when you need to listen to your body and not follow any rules that aren’t your own.