Should I exercise with a cold?

Dr. Jen Tan
Director at Bioforce UK
Jen Tan
Ask Dr. Jen Tan

19 August 2015

When is it ok to exercise?

We know that exercises is good for the immune system, but is it ok to exercise when we are actually ill?

The body is a powerful machine. It can work under pressure and provide great results, but as such it does have its limits. When we are fighting an infection it is important to take time out to listen to our bodies. Generally, a mild cold should have no impact on our ability to carry out exercise safely.

The best way of working this out is to decide if all the symptoms are above the neck – sneezing, sinuses and nasal issues. If this is the case there should be no issues.

When is it not ok to exercise?

The general rule would be if symptoms are below the neck (for example coughing, sore throat, or fever, then exercising is not a great idea. Your body should be telling you at this point that it needs to recover, and not be pushed into physical activity.

Problems which may occur from exercising

1. Common cold remedies such as decongestants can have the ability to increase your heart rate without any assistance from other sources. If you compound this with the additional work your heart is doing during exercise, then the comination can lead to an increase in blood pumping in the heart, leading to shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing.

2. If you suffer from asthma and find that it worsens when you have a cold, you should certainly, speak to your doctor before exercising. Working out while being an athsmatic with the cold can aggitate any exisiting coughs, wheezing and breathing problems. It would be far more advisable to wait until your cold symptoms subside before taking part in any exercise regime.

3. Anyone who suffers from any of these symptoms while exercising should contact a doctor as a priority:

  • Wheezing
  • Worsening congestion in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dizziness

What are the best and worst exercises to be done when poorly?

Low impact exercising is certainly best. Perhaps a nice walk in the countryside to get some fresh air, a jog on the beach, some yoga or even a little bit of gentle dancing to your favourite songs.

High impact sports which can increase the heart rate are the most risky. Such sports include running, team sports, cardio machines and weights in the gym.

When should you resume exercise after a cold?

Should you decide that you really think you are well enough to exercise at your local gym, please do bear your fellow gym members in mind. Perhaps you could go at a less busy time if you are feeling under the weather – most people don’t want to be subjected to a hot and sweaty snuffling person! Also you could remember to clean the machines after using them to reduce the spread of your germs. A final good tip is to use hand sanitiser while at the gym. Every little helps as they say!

Finally please do remember that there is no supporting evidence to say ‘Sweating it out’ works. Rather a much wiser idea is to wait until your body feels better, and works better (you will be able to tell!) and then ease yourself back into your fitness regime, rather than intensifying any health issue that you may have.

If you exercise three times a week, one suggestion would be to begin exercising at 20% of your normal ability, increasing this by 10% each workout. Do this for the next two or three weeks until you eventually reach your full workout capacity.

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