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Should I go running with a cold?

should I go running with a cold
A question often asked is: should I go running with a cold? (Image credit: Getty)

Exercise is a good way to stay fit and healthy because it boosts the immune system and reduces stress. But when you get struck by a cold, should you continue to go running? It’s a question that many runners debate, especially if they are training for a race or on a running streak.

The symptoms of a cold can last for as long as seven to 10 days and include a runny nose, a stuffed-up nose, headache, sneezing, a cough, fatigue and a sore throat.

Whether you should go running or not with a cold will depend on a number of factors.

One of the best rules is to think about where the symptoms are in your body. If the symptoms are above your neck, it’s probably fine to exercise. But if you feel any symptoms below your neck, especially in your chest, it would be advisable to take some time off from running.

For most people of good health, it’s okay to go running with a cold if the symptoms are mild and you feel generally well apart from a bit of a runny nose and you do not have any congestion,

Even so, the expert advice is to make sure you run well within your comfort zone levels and not to over exert yourself. This will allow your immune system the chance of fighting off the cold.

A few suggestions for how to safely go running with a cold include shortening the distance that you run; reducing the intensity of your work out; a jog instead of run; or go for a brisk walk instead of running.

should I go running with a cold

Think about where you feel the symptoms of a cold: above or below the neck? (Image credit: Getty)

When should I avoid going running with a cold?

If symptoms of your cold are more severe and below the neck, it’s not a good idea to go for a run. 

For example , if you feel very tired, have a chesty cough or congestion, a hacking cough, find it hard to breathe, an upset stomach, nausea or aching muscle or joints, this is an indicator that you have more than “just” a mild cold.

If you run with these symptoms, you are likely to extend the length of time that you are ill, or make the illness worse. 

If you have a temperature or a fever, you will increase the risk of dehydration if you go for a run. 

should I go running with a cold

It could be a good idea to go for a walk instead of running with a cold (Image credit: Getty)

What happens if I go running with a cold?

While it’s usually fine for someone of normally good health and fitness to go for a run with a mild cold, there are risks. You could, for example, end up making your cold worse, become dehydrated, feel  dizzy or have trouble breathing. 

If you already have underlying health issues, such as asthma or heart disease, it is not a good idea to run with a cold. 

What can I do instead of running with a cold?

Rest more and ensure you get lots of sleep at night to allow your body’s natural immune system fight the illness. 

You could swap your usual running for a walk or a jog, or lightly pedal an indoor bike. This would be a good time to stretch muscles, do gentle yoga or plan a trail running training programme for when you do return to exercise. 

It is usually considered safe to return to running after illness or a bad cold when you feel the symptoms subside. This might be seven to 10 days after you first felt you were coming down with a cold.

It’s a good idea to ease yourself back into exercise and to build up to following your usual running routine.

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).