I’m asked the question from time to time about running when you have a cold.
Whether or not to run when you feel a cold coming on is something many people have a tough time deciding – I struggle with as well. I really enjoy all that I get from running, and I hate to take a day off from working out if I don’t absolutely have to (OK – I’ll also admit that I’m afraid that a day off will undo all of the exercise I have done in the past – but that is a topic for another post). For purposes of this post, we’ll deal specifically with the case where you have a cold or feel a cold coming on and address illness in general in another post.
This really is a good question to consider, because the aim of exercise is keep you healthy or to move you toward better health – so you don’t want to do anything that might either prolong a cold or make you more susceptible to coming down with something else.
To best answer the question, consider whether your cold is contained to your head (stuffy nose, etc.) or whether it has migrated to your neck or chest (sore throat, chest congestion). A good general rule of thumb is that if it is above your neck, you’re fine to run. The two exceptions to this are if you have a sinus infection, or if you can feel that your body needs you to rest. Sometimes it is possible to beat a cold more quickly if you give your body rest; this is why it is important to stay in tune with the signals your body is giving you – it will “tell” you what it needs – you may have to relearn how to listen to the signals it gives you.
Can there be a benefit to running when you have a cold? Yes – as long as you don’t push yourself too hard, you will give your immune system a boost, and you will also relieve some stuffiness while running (and for a short while afterward) as your body shuttles blood to your muscles and away from your nasal passages. It can also help you clear your nasal passages of congestion and get some of the junk out of your system. Just don’t want to push yourself too hard – remember that your body needs extra rest to fight off a cold, and is diverting extra energy to your immune system. Also, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and stay well hydrated as you always should with a cold (but especially if you decide to run) .
Remember this general rule of thumb: cold is above your neck – enjoy your run if you feel up to it, but neck or below – you shouldn’t go. Of course if you feel like it may be flu, or have body aches, or feel like you are on the verge of getting something else, or have symptoms of a sinus infection or some other type of infection – take the day off and if necessary see your doctor. Better to take a short break and let your body recover than increase the duration or severity of your cold or leave yourself susceptible to coming down with something else.
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