Sunday, December 11, 2022

Can You Get Sicker If You Exercise With A Cold?

My son had a runny nose which worsened to a bad cough almost 3 weeks ago. Then my elder son and wife caught it from him. I was the only one unscathed so far or so I thought. Then I woke up on Monday with a slightly sore throat. Monday mornings I normally lift weights before seeing patients. 

Being a die-hard exercise devotee, there was no way I was going to miss my exercise session. Was that the right decision? Does that mean if you have a runny nose you need to skip your exercise session or could that workout actually do you some good?

In the past, I've always gone by the 'neck' rule. Symptoms above the neck (like a runny nose or low grade headache) means that a light workout usually will not make your cold or ailment worse.

The 'neck' rule was based on research done by Dr Weidner and colleagues. 50 adults that were infected with the common cold virus were randomly split into 2 groups. One group (34 subjects) had subjects do 40 minutes of moderate exercise every other day for 10 days while the other group (16 subjects) did no exercise.

The researchers found no difference in illness length or severity between the 2 groups. This shows that exercising moderately did not prolong or exacerbate their illness.

However, if you have below the neck symptoms like a hacking cough, chest discomfort, nausea, diarrhoea or whole body symptoms like fever, muscle aches or fatigue then it's not a good idea to exercise.

Please bear in mind that symptoms can evolve and what started as a runny nose can worsen to something more serious like the flu or even bronchitis. If your symptoms get worse, it's probably best to have a rest day. Rest till the 'below neck' symtoms go away. Relapse can happen if you try to come back too quickly and push too hard.

In rare cases, exercising intensely when you are sick or shortly after you have recovered can lead to new or lingering symptoms like exhaustion or unexplained pain. Researchers believe this is similar to how people develop long Covid or chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you are a die-hard exercise fanatic, try a brisk 30 minute walk outside or get on the stationary bike or elliptical machine. Lifting weights, like what I did, is probably fine too, just don't attempt to beat your personal best lifts. You will probably feel a psychological boost after exercising if all goes well.

Call it quits if you feel light headed or develop chest tightness or feel too much pain. Ease back slowly to your exercise routine when you're fully recovered before gradually increasing duration and intensity. Research actually shows that moderate exercise even when you're healthy helps to improve your immune response and lower your risk of catching respiratory tract infections.


Pedersen BK and Toft AD. (2000). Effects Of Exercise On Lymphocytes And Cytokines. BJSM. 34: 246-241. DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.34.4.246

Weidner TG, Cranston T, Schurr T et al (1998). The Effect Of Exercise Training on The Severity And Duration of A Viral Upper Respiratory Illness. Med Sci Sp Ex. 30(11): 1578-83. DOI: 10.1016/S0765-1597(99)80059-8

No comments:

Post a Comment