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Exercising with symptoms of a cold: should you do it?

The symptoms of a cold can have us laid up on the couch for days. It can feel like a real setback, especially when it comes to training. So much so that you might try to push through those sore throats, snotty noses and thumping headaches to try and stay on track of your goals. Although is exercising with a cold or flu really a good idea?  

What are the symptoms of a cold? 

The symptoms of a cold are a result of a viral infection in your nose and throat. They usually appear around 1-3 days after exposure to the virus and can vary from person to person. You might experience: 

·       A runny or blocked nose 

·       Headaches 

·       Body aches 

·       Coughing 

·       Sore throat 

·       Mild fever  

A healthy adult tends to catch roughly 2-3 colds each year. 

The stages of a cold 

There are four stages of a cold: 

Incubation period 

The time between the infection of the virus and the appearance of symptoms. This stage can last anywhere from 12 hours to three days. 

Appearance of symptoms 

The symptoms of a cold will appear and peak within 1-3 days. 


After three days, symptoms will start to weaken. 


Mild symptoms may linger but after ten days, you’ll start to feel normal again. 

How long do the symptoms of a cold last? 

The symptoms of a cold can last anywhere between one week and ten days for healthy adults. Smokers and young children may have to deal with them for a little longer. In any case, if they continue for longer or get worse (shortness of breath, lasting fever, wheezing) it’s important to seek medical attention.  

How to stop the symptoms of a cold when you feel them coming on 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold, although it’s always good to stay active and hydrated, get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins. In winter months especially, you can also take a multivitamin supplement, like our Body&Fit Multi Men, Multi Women or Sports Multi. These contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12, which contribute to the normal function of the immune system. 

Exercising with symptoms of a cold 

In theory, exercising with a cold (within your comfort level) is not likely to do you any harm. Although, when you’re sick, your immune system is working hard to fight off the virus. This takes a lot of energy and, as a result, your body has little left for a run, gym session or fitness class. So, it’ll thank you for taking it easy for a few days.  

If you’re experience symptoms of the flu, however, it’s recommended to avoid exercise. 

What is the difference between a cold and a flu? 

The common cold and the flu are both upper respiratory infections caused by viruses, although they are not the same. Only influenza viruses cause the flu. The common cold can be caused by several other viruses, including seasonal coronaviruses, rhinoviruses and parainfluenza. 

What are the symptoms of the flu? 

The symptoms of flu are usually more severe than the symptoms of a cold. They usually come on much faster and last longer. You may experience one or a few of the following: 

·       Fever 

·       Shaking chills 

·       Fatigue 

·       Body aches 

·       Headaches 

·       Vomiting & diarrhea (although more common in children than adults)

The intensity of flu symptoms peaks around the third or fourth day. In healthy adults, they’ll go away after 5-7 days, although it can take up to two weeks to get back to your best. 

Exercising with symptoms of a flu 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of flu, it’s best to stay away from training. You can’t ‘sweat out’ the flu or fever, so it’s best to wait until your body temperature has dropped before exercising intensely. Not only that, but experts believe exercising with the flu can increase the risk of developing a condition called myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart. Myocarditis symptoms include rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. If you’re working out when sick and experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. 

Exercising with symptoms of a cold or flu: when in doubt 

If you’re sick and unsure whether you should exercise, there’s a handy way to check. 

The “Above the Neck” rule 

If you’re suffering from symptoms above your neck — sneezing, mild sore throat, headache, runny or blocked nose — you can be comfortable exercising. If there are any symptoms below the neck, like a cough, congestion or shortness of breath, then you should stick to the couch and get some rest. 

The most important thing is to listen to your body. Exercise when you feel you can handle it and not because your schedule tells you to. Rest is essential, especially when you’re sick. If you’re ever unsure or symptoms persist longer than the four stages of a cold, consult your doctor. Find more advice on health, fitness, nutrition and wellbeing across our blog and social channels. As always, we’ll be right there to help you #FINDYOURFIT.