Running in the 'Meda: Exercising while sick

Running in the 'Meda: Exercising while sick

Marty Beene

Kids are all finally back in school (except for some college students), so you know what that means, right? Yes: They'll probably start bringing home those exotic cold viruses any day now.


Even if you don't have children, someone you work with or know some other way probably does, so don't worry; you won't miss out.

If you're reading my weekly fitness blog, then you are probably a person who exercises regularly. I'll go ahead and ask that burning question you're going to ask sooner or later of your doctor - er, I mean, your trainer:

"Is it okay to work out when I have a cold?"

One of the things I learned in medical school was that -

Wait a second ... I didn't go to medical school!

Yes, despite my lack of a medical degree, people ask me this question all the time. The good news is that, relative to all of the possible medical maladies one could suffer, the common cold is one of the least serious, so it's unlikely you can make a mistake that will be all that bad. The bad news is that, because the common cold is one of the least serious medical conditions out there, researchers don't exactly have "Exercising while Suffering Common Cold Symptoms" very high on the research priority list.

I find that most people aren't that interested in quizzing their doctor on this issue, so, in addition to directing them to medical web sites like WebMD for basic information, I do share anecdotal experience (and identify it as such) from my own colds and others.

The conventional wisdom is that it probably won't harm you to continue your usual exercise during a cold, as long as you consider a few important things:

1. You should dial back the intensity. The systems in your body that help you recover from a workout are largely the same ones that help you fight a cold. If you work out too hard, you may be redirecting those resources to your fitness needs when you should be trying to get well. You probably won't feel like doing an intense workout anyway.

2. For aerobic activities that involve heavy breathing like running, the rule of thumb is to go ahead as long as the symptoms are above the neck. If you're coughing, it's best to wait.

3. If you have a fever, you should rest. Wait until the fever is gone to work out.

4. Whether you plan to work out or not, be sure to hydrate adequately. In fact, it's usually a good idea to drink a little more fluids than you would otherwise. I prefer hot herbal tea when I'm sick.

My favorite activity to do when I have a cold is to simply go for a leisurely walk. Getting out in the fresh air feels good, and the relaxing vibe of an easy walk has a very positive effect on my mood, which likely helps me get well sooner.

Good luck!

Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. Since December of 1995, Marty has had 76 colds and has suffered cold symptoms for 543 days. He can be reached at