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Should you exercise with a cold? What You Need to Know

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Should I exercise with a cold? When you’re struck with a cold, it’s natural to wonder if it’s safe to continue with your exercise routine. After all, you don’t want to make your symptoms worse or prolong your illness. The good news is that in many cases, mild to moderate physical activity is generally considered safe when you have a common cold and no fever. In fact, exercise may even help you feel better by opening up your nasal passages and temporarily relieving congestion. However, there are important factors to consider before hitting the gym or going for a run. Let’s delve into the topic and explore what you need to know about exercising with a cold.

The “Neck Check” Method

Before deciding whether to exercise or not, it’s essential to conduct a “neck check” and assess your symptoms. According to experts, if your symptoms are all “above the neck,” such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, and a minor sore throat, it’s generally safe to engage in mild exercise. These symptoms are typically associated with a common cold and do not indicate a severe illness. In fact, Dr. Thomas Weidner, a professor of athletic training, conducted a landmark study in the 1990s that found no difference in illness length or severity between individuals who exercised moderately and those who didn’t when infected with the common cold virus.

However, if your symptoms extend “below the neck,” such as chest congestion, a hacking cough, or an upset stomach, it’s best to avoid exercise. These symptoms may suggest a more severe respiratory infection or illness, and engaging in physical activity could potentially worsen your condition.

Considerations for COVID-19 and Contagious Illnesses

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial to be mindful of the potential risks associated with exercising while sick. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or suspect that you may have been exposed to the virus, it is essential to follow the guidelines provided by health authorities and avoid exercising in public spaces or with others. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and engaging in physical activity while infected can put others at risk.

Similarly, if you have any other contagious illnesses, it’s best to refrain from exercising until you have fully recovered. This helps prevent the spread of the illness to others and allows your body to focus on healing.

Let Your Body Be Your Guide

While general guidelines can provide a starting point, it’s essential to listen to your body and adjust your exercise routine accordingly. If you feel miserable and fatigued, it may be a sign that your body needs rest and recovery. Pushing through intense exercise when you’re sick can potentially lead to injury or prolong your illness. Remember, taking a few days off from exercise when you’re unwell is unlikely to significantly impact your overall performance or fitness level.

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As you start to feel better, gradually resume your normal workout routine. Begin with low-intensity activities and shorter durations, allowing your body to adjust and regain strength. It’s essential to pay attention to any lingering symptoms or signs of fatigue and modify your workouts accordingly. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to exercise, consulting with your healthcare provider can provide personalized guidance based on your specific situation.

Additional Tips for Exercising with a Cold

If you decide to exercise while battling a cold, there are a few additional tips to keep in mind to ensure a safe and effective workout:

  1. Hydrate: Proper hydration is crucial when you’re sick and exercising. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workout to stay hydrated and support your body’s immune system.
  2. Modify Intensity: Reduce the intensity of your workout to avoid overexertion. Instead of high-intensity exercises, opt for low-impact activities like walking, gentle yoga, or light stretching.
  3. Listen to Your Breathing: Pay attention to your breathing during exercise. If you experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, it’s a sign to reduce the intensity or take a break.
  4. Practice Good Hygiene: When exercising in shared spaces, follow proper hygiene practices. Wipe down equipment before and after use, use hand sanitizer, and maintain social distancing to minimize the risk of spreading germs.
  5. Rest and Recover: Allow your body to rest and recover fully before returning to intense workouts. Pushing yourself too hard too soon can hinder your recovery and potentially lead to setbacks.

Remember, everyone’s body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to prioritize your health and well-being and make decisions based on your individual circumstances and comfort level.


In most cases, engaging in mild to moderate physical activity with a common cold and no fever is considered safe and may even provide temporary relief from symptoms. However, it’s crucial to assess your symptoms carefully and avoid exercise if your symptoms extend “below the neck” or if you have COVID-19 or other contagious illnesses. Listen to your body, rest when needed, and gradually resume your exercise routine as you start to feel better. Remember to stay hydrated, modify your intensity, practice good hygiene, and prioritize your overall well-being. If you have any doubts or concerns, consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice. Stay healthy and take care of yourself!

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Sae Yeon

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