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DrSugar on Working Out With a Cold

DrSugar knows this is a season of stuffy noses, and that cold and flu season brings with it concerns about exercising when we don't quite feel 100 percent. He has a few things to say on the matter, which should help you decide if you should skip the gym and head to the couch or if the treadmill is the remedy you need. Here's what he has to say:

As Winter creeps in and cold and flu season begins, it is tempting to stay indoors and put away those running shoes for a few months. However, studies show that maintaining a moderate exercise routine can actually boost the immune system and prevent infections. The best way to prevent colds this Winter is to eat a nutritious and well-rounded diet, exercise, avoid stress, get plenty of sleep, and wash your hands regularly. While mild to moderate exercise routines boost the immune system, it is also known that extreme regimens can cause stress by elevating cortisol levels and actually weaken the immune system. This explains why it is common to come down with a cold following a big athletic event, such as that once-a-year marathon or triathlon.

To see how exercise can affect you once you're beginning to feel under the weather, please


The next questions to tackle come when you actually get that tickle in the throat and a stuffy nose. Should I exercise? Will it boost my immune system? Will it make my illness worse? There is minimal medical literature when it comes to addressing the question of whether it is OK to exercise with a cold. Most physicians use common sense and prior experiences with sick patients. It is well established that sick patients with respiratory symptoms such as a productive cough, wheezing, or breathing difficulties will often feel worse following exercise. It is also not a good idea to exercise when you have a fever. When your body is reacting to an illness with a fever, your immune system requires a tremendous amount of energy to fight the infection. Exercising can put further stress on your body and actually make the recovery process slower. Some doctors suggest that it is fine to exercise if your symptoms are above the neck, such as mild sore throat or runny nose. If do you have a mild cold and you decide to go the gym, make sure to wipe down your equipment with disinfectant afterward! Also, ever wonder if it’s a good idea to "sweat out a cold"? We addressed this old wives' tale earlier this year.

If you have a question for DrSugar, send me a private message here and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
Spectra Spectra 8 years
I definitely think that staying physically active during the winter is a big key in preventing illness. I have to be REALLY sick in order to skip my workouts. I do follow the "above the neck" rule as well. A few weeks ago, I had a fever and just felt generally crappy and I didn't work out that day. I ate a lot of foods with antioxidants and had some hot chicken soup. The next day, my fever was pretty much gone, so I worked out even though I still had a runny nose and a bit of a cough.
nancita nancita 8 years
This is one of my great unanswered questions. Mainly I like to work out if I just have a head cold, but it's nice to have an excuse not to if I feel worse. Thanks!
Livvy-P Livvy-P 8 years
Wow! I woke up this AM with a scratchy throat & runny nose, but decided to exercise anyway. Plus, I wipe down my machines before & after anyway, just to be courteous. So glad that I went! I would have felt super bad if I didn't after reading this - thanks Fit!
aeschere aeschere 8 years
thanks for this. i have a bad respiratory infection thing going on and my man and i wanted to work out today... now we both think it's best if i stay home and rest
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i know that i've heard some of these tips before and it's great to have them validated for me. i've heard the 'it's ok if it's above the neck' rule in the past and that's the one that i've gone with . i used to think that sometimes if you had a fever that it would be good to sweat it out, and in those cases sometimes i just go to the steam room that way. i don't know if it's smart to do that - but i do it anyway.
syako syako 8 years
Great tips! I always wonder about this and thanks for addressing the wipe down the equipment issue! ;)
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