Running With a Cold – Can You Do It?

This article answers the common questions regarding running with a cold and provides some tips about what to do if you're unsure.

Running is a great form of cardiovascular exercise and in many cases, regular running can even help boost your immune system and reduce your chances of getting sick. However, coming down with the common cold can still put a damper on your running routine.

If you've noticed cold symptoms, you may be wondering whether you should continue with your regular exercise plans or give your body some time to rest. Ultimately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this, but there are some general guidelines you can use to help you make your decision.

Are You Sure It's a Cold?

First and foremost, it's important to evaluate your symptoms and make sure what you're dealing with is a cold rather than some other illness or virus. The most common cold symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough and/or sore throat
  • Sneezing and/or congestion
  • Low-grade fever

Unfortunately, seasonal allergies and COVID-19 can also cause many of these same symptoms. For this reason, you should speak with your doctor to determine whether you need further testing or evaluation before you assume your symptoms are related to a simple cold.

The Above-the-Neck/Below-the-Neck Rule

A cold
If your cold is above the head only, it's ok to run

If you do have a cold, whether or not you should continue with your running routine will depend on many factors. As a general guideline, you can follow the above-the-neck/below-the-neck rule. This rule essentially means if you're only experiencing symptoms above the neck, such as congestion, a headache and sneezing, you can continue to work out as normal.

On the other hand, if your symptoms are below the neck, such as a fever, body aches and chest congestion, it's probably best to pause your running until you're feeling better. Contrary to what you may think, forcing yourself to exercise when you're not feeling well will not help your body overcome your illness any sooner; in fact, pushing your body too hard when you're sick can actually inhibit your recovery and make things worse.

If You Decide to Forego Your Run

The good news is that even if you have to miss out on a few running sessions due to a cold, there are still some steps you can take to remain active and help your body recover. Some examples of safer exercise options to consider when you're not feeling 100% include:

  • Walking
  • Light yoga
  • Stretching

When you are starting to feel better, exercise caution before you lace up those running shoes again. Rather than jumping right back into your running routine, it is recommended you ease your way back into it. This might mean cutting your run a little short or not pushing yourself too hard for the first few sessions.

Other Considerations for Running With a Cold

If your symptoms are above the neck and you do decide to continue running while you fight off your cold, there are some important precautions to remember. First and foremost, listen to your body. If you feel like you're pushing yourself too hard or you begin to experience symptoms like dizziness or difficulty breathing, it's time to take a break. This is especially important if you have an underlying medical condition like asthma.

Likewise, if you typically run outdoors, you might want to consider shifting your run indoors while you battle your cold — especially if the air outside is cold and dry. Cold, dry air can further aggravate your symptoms and prolong your recovery.

Meanwhile, there are some steps you can take at home to potentially reduce the length of your cold and start feeling better sooner. Make sure you're drinking plenty of fluids, and opt for warm liquids like tea or even soup broth for sore throat relief. If you're not doing so already, try an over-the-counter cold medicine to tackle your symptoms as well.

The Final Word on Running With a Cold

Ultimately, the best piece of advice for deciding whether or not to run with a cold is to listen to your body. If your symptoms are mild and you feel up to it, there's nothing wrong with going for a run. However, be sure to take it easy on yourself and keep an eye on your symptoms — pushing yourself too hard can aggravate your condition. If your body is telling you to rest, listen. While it may be frustrating to take a few days off from your usual running routine, the reality is that rest will help your body recover.

If you have any questions or concerns about running with a cold, your best bet is always to consult with your doctor. He or she will be able to provide you with personalized medical advice. However, the guidelines here are still a good starting point.

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