- Whether you should workout with a cold depends on the severity of your symptoms.
- Working out with a cold may relieve your congestion, but the relief is only temporary and could prolong your illness if you overexert yourself.
- A good rule of thumb is that if you are going to work out when you’re sick, keep the intensity low.
- This article was reviewed by Rod Oskouian, MD, at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.
When your nose is dripping faster than the sweat from your pores, you might wonder if exercising with a cold is a good idea.
While following a regular fitness routine is beneficial to your overall health, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your workouts when you’re under the weather.
To get a better idea of what working out with a cold does to your body, Insider asked three experts to share their recommendations on opting in or out of a workout.
When it’s OK to work out with a cold
Whether you should head outdoors for a quick jog or jump back into bed for more rest depends on the severity of your symptoms.
Generally, if you’re dealing with the common cold, you’ll have “above the neck” symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, sore throat, and fatigue.
If your cold is mild, it’s usually OK to continue working out – just be sure to modify your workouts so you’re expending less energy overall.
For example, if you normally work out for an hour at a time – 30 minutes of high-intensity cardio followed by 30 minutes of resistance training – you should modify your workout so that it’s 20 to 30 minutes of low-intensity cardio and some light stretching or yoga instead.
Also, if you go to the gym to work out, be extra careful around your exercise buddies because you may be contagious.
If your cold symptoms are more severe, such as a hacking cough, chest congestion, or trouble breathing, doctors suggest that you take a few days off from exercising.
Also, if you’re experiencing fever, chills, and body aches, in addition to the symptoms of the common cold, you could be dealing with something more serious, like the flu. If that’s the case, rest is your best bet, so hold off on working out until your fever is gone.
What happens to your body when you work out with a cold
When you’re congested, blood flows to your nasal cavity to fight the infection caused by the cold, says Todd Buckingham, an exercise physiologist at the Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab.
“But when you exercise, the blood flows away from the nasal cavity and to the working muscles, which brings relief to your congestion while you are working out,” Buckingham tells Insider. That said, this relief is only temporary and could prolong your illness if you overexert yourself.
Moreover, feeling run down may impact your performance, says Janette Nesheiwat, a family and emergency doctor. “For most people, having a cold means you are fatigued, low on energy, and maybe even short of breath.”
And when this happens, there’s a good chance you’ll see a decrease in the number of reps you can lift or notice that you move at a slower pace when running, biking, or swimming.
Certain workouts are better than others
“Exercising too hard when you’re sick can make it more difficult for your body to fight off the infection,” says Kenton Fibel, a family physician specializing in sports medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. This can prolong your illness, resulting in more days away from your fitness routine.
Here, the experts weigh in on the best and worst workouts to do when you have a cold.
Low-impact workouts do not raise your heart rate too much or cause excessive fatigue, which makes them the safest bet when you have a cold.
The activities will raise your heart rate more than the green-light activities, so they may tire you out sooner. Perform these activities only if they’re part of your regular fitness routine and they don’t make your symptoms worse while doing them.
- Lifting light weights
- Swimming (though breathing might be difficult when congested)
- Cycling at a low to moderate pace
Regardless of your fitness level, avoid these activities because they’re high-intensity workouts and could overtax your already taxed body.
- Endurance training
- Strength training
- High-intensity cycling
- Exercising in cold weather, especially in below-freezing temperatures
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts
If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor before working out.
Related stories about the common cold:
- You’re most contagious with the cold virus in the first three days of infection
- You can’t sweat out a cold, and trying to could make it harder for you to recover
- No, you cannot get sick from being cold. But it may increase your risk
- Vitamin C for the common cold is a myth, sort of
- To get over a cold fast, eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and calcium