womenTALK: Blog

Tuesday, Dec 18th 2012

Is It OK to Exercise With a Cold?

authored by Sheryl Kraft

As I sniffled and coughed my way out of bed this morning and reached for my workout clothes (I put them out the night before so I would have no excuse), I stopped short.

What was I doing? I had a cold. I was stuffy and sneezy. And part of me wanted to crawl back under the covers, curl up with a good book and stay put for the day.

Shouldn't I skip the gym?

But then I remembered the advice I freely dispensed to cold-inflicted friends and family: if you feel like you can go to the gym—even if you don't have your usual energy—it might do you some good.

READ MORE: Is It a Cold or Is It the Flu?

That's right. It is OK to exercise when you're sick, if you follow these general guidelines:

If your symptoms are above your neck, it's usually OK. Your best bet is to work out at a lower intensity and for less time than you usually do, so you don't exhaust yourself and stress or weaken your immune system further. You need a strong immune system to fight your cold, after all.

These symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Minor sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Sneezing

But, if the symptoms are below your neck, it's generally advised to skip the gym.

These symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Widespread body and muscle aches
  • Coughing or chest congestion
  • Vomiting, upset stomach or stomach cramps

And here's some interesting news for you, if you do not exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce the number of colds you get by increasing the action of certain natural killer cells and rendering a stronger and abler immune system. One study found that women who walked for a half-hour every day for one year had half the number of colds as women who didn't exercise.

I'm happy to report that I not only survived my trip to the gym—giving myself a gentler-than-normal workout—but I also emerged newly energized, with a nose that was a lot less stuffy.

To guard against getting—and spreading—germs at the gym, it's a good idea to clean the handles of the machines before and after you work out, as well as wash your hands with antibacterial soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after working out. If you have to sneeze, it's best to do so into your upper sleeve or into the crook of your arm. And, when you throw your gym clothes in the washing machine, it couldn't hurt to add your gym bag, too.

READ MORE: Get Motivated: The Workout You Won't Cancel