Can you get sick from running in the rain? It’s a common enough question, especially since most of us were raised to believe that going out with wet hair led to almost instant death from colds and flus. With wetter and colder weather ahead for many of us, you might be wondering whether it’s time to hang up your trail running shoes and hit the treadmill for a few months. But then again, doesn’t that mean that runners in the pacific northwest must have perpetual colds? We decided to investigate this questions and separate fact from fiction, so you can keep running safely, no matter what the weather forecast is calling for.
Can you get sick from running in the rain?
You’ve probably got wet in loads of downpours in your life and never got sick, and that’s because getting wet on its own doesn’t make you sick. Assuming it’s a cold that you’re worried about catching while running in the rain, the common cold is caused by a virus and you can’t catch it from getting wet. Meanwhile, flu transmission has actually been found to decrease in humid conditions (opens in new tab).
However, that doesn’t mean the link between wet weather and you getting sick is entirely an old wives tale either. According to a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in new tab), rhinovirus, the most common cause of the cold, replicates more easily at cooler temperatures. Add to that the fact that cold weather tends to drive us all indoors and closer to each other and it’s no wonder that colds and flus tend to spike in cold weather.
So there’s more cold virus generally around in colder months, but as long as you’re running outside or in summer, shouldn’t you be relatively safe? Well, the scientists involved in the study also found that lowered body temperature can diminish your own antiviral immune responses, so if you get wet and then chilled from running in the rain, your resistance to certain viruses may be diminished. So that’s a long way of saying that, inadvertently, yes, you could get sick from running in the rain.
Is it OK to go running in the rain?
Because the connection seems to be cold-related and not humidity-driven, going running in a warm summer rain shouldn’t increase your chances of getting sick at all – as long as you don’t get chilled afterwards. Where rain could become a problem is if you get really cold, which isn’t likely to happen as long as you’re actually running. But if you get soaked to the skin and then spend time cooling off in your wet clothes, you could increase your susceptibility to certain viruses, which are more prevalent during colder weather but present in any season.
So, the first place to start is to know what to wear when running in the rain so you are keeping as much rainwater out as possible without trapping your sweat close to your skin, since that can make you chilled if the temperatures drop. In other words, wear light, breathable layers, a waterproof running jacket and hat to keep the rain off your face.
Next up, make sure you get out of your wet clothes and dry off as soon as you’re finished running. If your run starts and ends at home, that’s easy, but if you’re trail running, make sure you pack a camping towel, have a dry set of clothes waiting in your car and get those heaters blowing.
Running in the rain really only becomes risky if the surface you’re running on is very slick – so slow down and make sure your shoes have deep lugs for grip, even on the roads – or if the rain is accompanied by other dangerous weather events, such as lightning, snap freezes, high wind and falling trees. In those scenarios, yes, a treadmill might be your best option.
- Best running jackets: stay warm and comfortable when things get wet
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.
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