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Should you exercise when you have a cold? A doctor gives their expert advice on whether working out when sick is ever a good idea.

We’ve all learnt a lot about dealing with colds, flu and viruses in recent years. But sore throats, blocked noses and foggy heads are more than just annoying – they can interrupt your entire routine meaning you might not be able to work and socialise.

But what about exercise? Research has found that exercising regularly can do wonders for your immune system, with some studies indicating it can lower your risk of catching upper respiratory infections like the common cold.

A study published in the National Library of Medicine found just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough to boost your immunity to sickness and bugs.

So if fitness is essential in preventing you from getting sick, should we really be skipping exercise when we’re ill?

Strong Women spoke to Dr Claudia Pastides, a GP for digital health service Babylon, to understand when and how to exercise if you’ve been struck down by s cold. 

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Should you work out with a cold?

“There’s nothing to say that you shouldn’t exercise with a run-of-the-mill head cold,” says Dr Pastides, which might not be the answer you were looking for if you’re trying to convince yourself you’re too sniffly for a session. “Of course if you’re feeling incredibly unwell you might not want to exercise, but medically there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.”

It goes without saying that this information pertains to the common cold – not Covid. Given that many of the symptoms overlap, always make sure you do a test for coronavirus and isolate if you are unwell. That also means don’t head to the gym. Even if you don’t have the virus, it’s best not to risk it.

Can you sweat out a cold?

There’s a common thought that going hell for leather on a cardio machine can get rid of your symptoms. It stems from the fact that during a cold your body temperature will rise as a warmer body will fight infections more efficiently. But attempting to get yourself hot to ‘sweat out the cold’ doesn’t work quite in the same way. 

“Your body needs to raise its temperature by itself in order to fight the infection – you can’t create that environment for your body by going for a run or to the gym,” says Dr Pastides. 

This is how to give your immune system a boost when it’s running low

How sick is too sick to exercise?

If working out through a mild head cold is ok, when does that get bad enough to press pause on your routine? “It sounds like common sense, but if you’re feeling like you can’t get out of bed then I really don’t think you need to push yourself to exercise,” says Dr Pastides. When that cold becomes a flu, exercise is definitely a no-go. Dr Pastides prescribes rest if you feel faint, are struggling to breathe and/or have aching muscles (not including post-gym DOMS). “Our bodies are very clever and tell us when we need to let ourselves recover.”

What exercise should be avoided with a cold?

Dr Pastides recommends avoiding anything too vigorous if you’re not 100%, and especially anything that will get you too out of breathe if you are already struggling to breathe through your nose. “Just be sensible and listen to your body,” she says. “Sometimes it’s best to take the time to recover and take your exercise through daily walks.”

In the end, exercising won’t make the cold go away any faster, so it’s better to rest and let your body concentrate on fighting the infection.

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