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Should you work out when you have a cold? While there are individual differences among people who do regular exercise, there are some health-minded individuals who should avoid working out when they have a cold.

Exercising with a Cold When It's Cold

While it's possible to catch colds caused by different strains of the virus in the tropics any time of year, most of us live in parts of the world where people catch colds when the weather is cold. The combination of coming down with a cold and working out in cold air can cause some people major problems.

About 10% of the general population in most of Europe and North America experiences exercise-induced bronchospasm. Working out and breathing hard can trigger constriction of the airways leading to breathlessness or a full-blown asthmatic attack. If you add to these symptoms the congestion and nasal constriction caused by a cold, exercise-induced bronchospasm can be much more severe. If you are prone to asthma and you catch a cold, don't work out in cold air—or just take a few days away from your workout schedule.

Exercising with a Cold During Pollen Season

Even more people tend to get asthma during their local pollen season. In places like Japan and Texas, pollen season occurs in the dead of winter, several weeks after first frost, when cedar trees bloom. In other locations, pollen season comes at the very end of colds season, but while H1N1 is still going around. If you are prone to pollen allergies and you catch a cold during your pollen season, do light workouts no workouts at all until you get your colds symptoms under control. It's also important to avoid fumes and drafts until you get over your cold.

Exercising When You Have a Fever with a Cold

Do we really have to tell you it's not a good idea to go to the gym when you have both a cold and a fever? If you do work out, you may not be doing your muscles any good. The nutrients your muscles must sequester from the bloodstream to remodel and reshape themselves to grow harder and stronger after exercise may already be in use to fight your infection. If that's the case, then if you do exercise, you'll just be breaking down muscle fibers without building them back up.

There are times when even people who are usually in great physical condition need to see a doctor about a cold.

  • When chest congestion makes breathing at rest labored or even just uncomfortable.
  • When a cold is followed by a lightheaded feeling.
  • When a cold causes dizziness or loss of balance.
  • When it's difficult to catch your breath.
  • When there is excessive coughing or sneezing.
  • When there is a feeling of pressure on the chest or on the arms.

But there are also times it's OK to exercise when you have a cold, if you follow some basic commonsense rules.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Weidner TG, Cranston T, Schurr T, Kaminsky LA. The effect of exercise training on the severity and duration of a viral upper respiratory illness. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Nov
  • 30(11):1578-83.
  • Weidner TG, Anderson BN, Kaminsky LA, Dick EC, Schurr T. Effect of a rhinovirus-caused upper respiratory illness on pulmonary function test and exercise responses. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 May
  • 29(5):604-9.
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