Exercise, such as running, can help protect you against the common cold. It helps by boosting your immune system and reducing your levels of stress hormones.
If you have a cold, it can be tempting to want to continue your running routine, especially if you’re training for a race or working toward a fitness goal.
If you want to know whether it’s safe to continue running when you have a cold, this article has the answers.
If you have a cold, you may experience a variety of symptoms that last for around 7 to 10 days. These symptoms may include:
There are many factors to consider before working out while sick. This includes the severity of your symptoms, as well as the intensity of your workout.
Here are some general recommendations for running when you have a cold.
When you can run
If your cold is mild and you don’t have much congestion, it’s usually safe to work out.
A good rule of thumb is to consider the location of your symptoms. When your symptoms are located above your neck, you may be able to exercise safely.
But it’s still a good idea to take it easy. This will help your immune system fight off the cold as you continue being physically active.
You can dial down your running routine by:
- decreasing the length and intensity of your run
- jogging instead of running
- taking brisk walks instead of running
When it’s best not to run
Avoid running if you have more severe symptoms. This includes fever and any symptoms that are below your neck, such as:
- chest congestion
- chest tightness
- hacking cough
- trouble breathing
- upset stomach
- muscle or joint aches
These symptoms may indicate a more serious sickness.
Exercising with these kinds of symptoms could prolong your recovery time or worsen your illness. Plus, if you have a fever, running could increase the risk of dehydration or heat-related illness.
It’s best to stay home and rest if you have more severe symptoms. If you must work out, opt for gentle stretching.
Though it’s generally safe to run with a mild cold, there are some possible risks. This may include:
These side effects depend on the severity of your symptoms. Additionally, you’re more likely to experience side effects if you run at your normal intensity.
If you have a chronic condition, like asthma or heart disease, talk to your doctor first. Running with a cold may exacerbate your existing condition.
Running isn’t the only way to stay active. If you have a cold, try doing other types of exercise.
Safe options include:
Avoid activities that require high levels of physical exertion.
As your cold symptoms subside, you can start easing back into your normal running routine. For many people, cold symptoms will start to get better after 7 days.
Be sure to resume exercise gradually. Start slowly and work your way up incrementally until you’re back to your usual running routine. This will help ensure that your body has enough time and energy to fully recover.
While there isn’t a cure for a cold, there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms and help your body recover.
Try these home remedies to help ease your cold symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluids. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or clear broth. Avoid caffeinated drinks or alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
- Choose warm liquids. Tea, warm lemon water, and soup may help relieve congestion.
- Rest. Get plenty of sleep and try to relax.
- Gargle salt water. If you have a sore throat, gargle with 8 ounces of warm water mixed with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Use a humidifier. A humidifier may help decrease congestion by increasing the moisture in the air.
- Take an over-the-counter (OTC) cold medication. OTC medications might help ease coughing, congestion, a sore throat, and headaches. Ask your doctor for recommendations, and be sure to follow the directions.
Colds and seasonal allergies share several symptoms, like a runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. As a result, it may be difficult to tell which one you’re experiencing.
If your allergies are acting up, you’ll likely also have:
- an itchy nose
- itchy or red eyes
- swelling around the eyes
The main difference between allergies and the common cold is itchy eyes. A cold rarely causes this symptom.
Another difference is coughing, which is usually caused by a cold rather than allergies. An exception is if you have allergic asthma, which can cause coughing.
Generally, it’s OK to run with allergies. But depending on the severity of your allergies, you may need to take extra steps to run safely and comfortably.
Here’s what you can do:
- Check the pollen counts. Run outside when pollen counts are low. Pollen levels are usually lower in the morning.
- Avoid dry and windy weather. It’s best to run outside after it rains, which reduces the pollen in the air.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses. These accessories protect your hair and eyes from pollen.
- Take allergy medication. Ask your doctor for a recommendation. If the medication causes drowsiness, you may have to take it at night.
- Bring your rescue inhaler. If you have allergic asthma, your doctor might suggest bringing along an inhaler during your run.
- Run indoors. Consider running on an indoor track or treadmill, especially during pollen season.
If you’re concerned about running with allergies, talk to your primary care doctor or allergist.
Running with a mild cold is usually safe, especially if the symptoms are above your neck. However, it’s also important to listen to your body. Instead of doing your usual running routine, you may want to try a less strenuous activity like jogging or brisk walking.
If you have more severe symptoms, like a fever, hacking cough, or chest tightness, it’s best to avoid running. Overexerting your body could prolong your symptoms.
By resting, you can help your body fight off the infection. This will allow you to return to your normal routine sooner rather than later.