We all know the feeling: you’ve been planning a long run for several days, and it’s going to be awesome. Then you wake up that morning, and you have a cold! At first thought, you might want to make some tea and retreat to the warmth of your favorite blanket. But your miles! You have to get your miles in! What do you do? In this article, we’ll cover everything that you need to know about running with a cold.
We’ll discuss different types of colds, how they impact running, whether you should run with the flu (short answer: no), tips for running with a cold, and whether running can help your immune system.
Determine the Type of Cold (Head Cold versus Chest Cold)
Whether or not you should run with a cold actually depends on the type of cold that it is. Experts tend to suggest the “neck rule.” If you have a head cold and have symptoms above the neck like runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and general stuffiness, then you are fine to run with a cold.
However, if it’s a cold below the neck, or a chest cold, and you have symptoms like a fever, coughing, chest congestion, diarrhea, aches, fatigue, etc., then it’s time to rest and recuperate. Save the run for a day you feel better.
But Should I Run With a Cold?
“All right”, you might be saying. “I have a head cold, so I’m technically good to run, but should I be running?” Obviously, this depends on personal preference, but it might be worth going for a short run to see if it helps you feel better. If it does, then run. But if not, then don’t.
It tends to be the case that running at the beginning of a cold can actually help you feel better because it will open up your airways and help decrease congestion, clearing out nasal passages and helping you kick the bug faster.
Related: How cold is too cold when running
But it’s important to take it easy, or you might overdo it and make your illness more severe. That’s what a study found—working out too hard when ill is likely to make you sicker. Working out moderately, on the other hand, will give you fewer and/or less severe symptoms.
Not everyone agrees, though, about running with a cold, as some people think that it merely prolongs the cold. One coach has the 85 to 90 percent rule, meaning that runners shouldn’t go back to running until they feel 85 to 90 percent better.
This likely means that you’ll be out a day or two of running, but you’ll be more likely to jump back into things because you’ve allowed your body to rest and recuperate as opposed to putting it through more stress via running.
Finally, if you have any pre-existing conditions like asthma, you probably shouldn’t push it. Give yourself a couple days off from running.
Should I Run With the Flu?
What is a huge no-no is running with the flu. You need time to fight off the infection, and running will make your body more susceptible to viruses, since vigorous exercise compromises the immune system and requires significant amounts of energy and nutrients.
A fever occurs when your body is trying to fight off infections by raising your body’s internal temperature. You don’t want to also increase your body’s temperature through running, so you need to avoid running with the flu and/or a fever.
Instead, give your body as many days as it needs to rest and relax as well as the energy it needs to fight off the infection. When you start to feel good about doing your normal everyday activities, wait one more day and then go for a run.
For example, if you get sick on a Thursday and can interact normally on Sunday, then make Monday your first day back to running. Don’t worry about losing running fitness – it takes 10 days to significantly lose it.
If you’re trying to figure out whether you should run, you might want to consider asking a trusted friend, family member, or your coach. They’ll give you honest advice about when you’re ready to get back to running.
Tips for Running With a Cold
The most important thing to remember when running with a cold is to take it easy. This is not the time for tempo, interval, or long runs. Instead, you should go for a nice and slow recovery or easy run.
Additionally, run shorter distances. Go at a lower intensity. Turn off your GPS watch so you aren’t tempted to push yourself. And don’t run with anyone who is above your skill level and may push you too hard.
As much you might like to—especially if you’ve had a race planned for a long time, don’t enter a race. You could do serious damage to your body. Make sure that you’re getting the proper nutrition and eating healthy, staying hydrated, and getting ample rest. Finally, take your time increasing your running after your cold.
Can Running Reduce the Risk of Getting a Cold?
The answer is yes! Exercise in general boosts the immune system, even if vigorous exercise can lead to longer recuperation times. Runners tend to be healthier people and are more likely to avoid illnesses because their bodies are in good shape.
Just make sure that you don’t overdo your recovery runs or skip rest days, because intense effort lowers your immunity while you recover.
In the end, sometimes running with a cold temporarily reduces cold symptoms. You’ll get the runner’s high and feel way better after your workout, although you’ll want to make sure that you’re still feeling as good when you wake up the next day.
Related: Vitamins and Nutrients for runners
As long as you don’t have a chest cold, a fever, or the flu, you’re probably good to go running with a cold if you take it easy and don’t go very far.
You might want to consider running a mile without your GPS watch. You’ll be outside less than 15 minutes, and that might be exactly the pick-me-up you need before spending the rest of the day watching Netflix and eating chicken noodle soup.