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Training Tips: Should I exercise when I have a cold?

In my daily medical practice, I’m often asked a very common question, “Should I exercise when I have a cold?


First, when describing a “cold,” I’m talking about a minor self-limited upper respiratory infection,typically of viral nature.

What’s that?


Typically you might feel increased clear sinus drainage, stuffy nose, congestion, mild sore throat or mild cough.  You might feel a minor headache and less energetic.  I’m painting a picture of a “mild” illness.  It’s my medical opinion that many “colds” are a result a break down in immune strength based on either nutrition, over-stress, or under rest.  (Or virulent assault during cold season).

As a former collegiate athlete I often trained through the aforementioned description and sometimes worse.

However, when is a cold worsened by exercise?   When should you stop training and rest more until a cold passes?

Here are my 6 criteria for holding on aerobic or intense cardiovascular workouts.

1. Fever (Temp >100.5)

2. Body aches

3. Green/yellow phlegms (from sinus drainage or cough)

4. Shortness of breath

5. Symptom persistence greater than 7 days.

6. Extremes of environmental conditions


Here are a few natural tips for modifying workouts to allow for faster cold recovery but minimizing downtime:

1. Sleep extra 1 hour daily

2. Increase water intake 20% or at least 3 extra 8 ounces of water daily above baseline

3. Focus on stretching, range of motion, and relaxation techniques instead of intense weight or aerobic work.  (Tai Chi/Yoga)

4. Focus on proper diet consumption of high quality food, avoiding soda, alcohol, and dairy products.

5.  Decrease intensity and volume of usual activities

Remember focus on the big picture.  Unless you have a specific competitive event looming, the risk of pushing through a major illness may not produce benefits.  Sometimes the better part of valor stems from recognizing your bodies need to repair and replenish temporarily.





{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Erlinda January 19, 2013, 3:23 pm

    Just read your article on “Should I excercise when I have a cold.” Thank you for that information. I usually avoid excercise but the next time I’m down with a cold/sinus infection, I’ll focus more on Yoga.

    Thanks again

  • William Curtis January 20, 2013, 2:55 pm

    Thanks Erlinda, Yoga is great when you’re under the weather. Yoga also helps you balance energy which of course is one of the problems (and treatments) when you’re sick.

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