I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me this! It can be incredibly frustrating when you’re in the swing of a fitness routine and suddenly, out of nowhere (or straight from the nose of a helpful friend or relative) comes the common cold virus. Is it ok to exercise with a cold? Will working out when you have a cold make you more ill? Could exercising with a cold actually make you feel better? Can you ‘sweat out’ a cold?
The general rule about exercising with an illness, that you’ll often hear, is that if the symptoms are above the neck it’s ok to exercise and if they’re below the neck, then it isn’t. I don’t think this is always that helpful as there are definitely exceptions to this.
If you just have a bit of a runny nose and are sneezing, sniffling and have a dry, tickly throat but otherwise feel ok, then a bit of exercise is unlikely to do you any harm. Just take it easy and be aware that it’s not the best time to push yourself. You can’t actually ‘sweat out’ the cold virus but exercise may help to relieve your nasal congestion temporarily and the feeling of wellbeing you get after exercise can make you feel a little better in the short term. Going for a walk is almost never the wrong thing to do so you can head out for a stroll and see how you feel or switch to something more gentle like a good stretching session if you feel a bit delicate. Remember to keep well hydrated.
On the other hand, if you have any of the following then it’s best to give it a miss:

  • A high temperature
  • Shivering or aching
  • A chesty cough
  • Dizziness
  • Facial or tooth pain from inflamed sinuses
  • Thick nasal discharge and difficulty breathing
  • You feel out of breath or wheezy when walking about
  • Your throat is painful when you swallow
  • You have glands up in your neck
  • Extreme fatigue
  • A faster pulse than normal

These symptoms suggest that your body is working hard to clear an infection and you probably won’t benefit from the extra stress that exercise will put on your body. Some of these complaints suggest that it might not just be a common cold that you’re dealing with.
The best bet is always to just be sensible and use some common sense. Forget the training plan for a moment. How do you actually feel? Being stubborn and pushing on isn’t always the right thing to do. Sometimes a couple of days rest will allow your body to recover faster.
There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health.
Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person.  So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional. 

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  1. This is very helpful. I must say I do always run with a cold, because it’s only ever ‘just’ a cold, and I usually feel better for it. I would always advise anyone with a temperature, bad headache etc to give it a miss for a few days.

    1. I think its hard to know sometimes whether its going to develop into something else and that by pushing yourself you can worry if you’ll make it worse. Common sense usually works but we all lack that sometimes!

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