Should You Work Out with a Cold?

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An airman takes part in a physical fitness assessment.
Airmen from the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, participate in the 1.5-mile run portion of the physical fitness assessment at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Missouri, July 1, 2021. (Master Sgt. Michael Crane/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

A National Guard soldier who is preparing for his physical fitness test (PFT) asked a common question that many people get wrong.

"Since I have a cold (head stuffed, sore throat, sinus pain), is it OK to PT or run?"

Whenever you go into a public facility, consider it germ-infested during the flu season, especially a gym. Catching colds from your kids who attend school, from living in barracks or from cafeterias is all too common during the flu season. By simply washing your hands or using hand cleaner throughout your day, you can decrease your chances of even catching a cold or flu significantly.

If your chest is congested or you have a fever, chills, any other cold ailment from the neck down or are dehydrated, do not work out. Chest congestion and any type of exercise do not mix well. Aerobic or anaerobic activity can overwork your heart and cause your chest cold to develop into bronchitis or pneumonia.

Lifting weights naturally can increase blood pressure. Combined with overworking your heart, you really can cause damage if not careful when exercising while ill. Plus, you don't want to bring your germs to the gym, either.

However, if you have a head cold with minor sinus pain, sniffles, sneezing, etc., it is fine to work out as long as you have a normal energy level and are not feeling sluggish. Be careful not to overdo your activity with high-intensity workouts.

You need to drop your intensity level a bit, because your body is using energy to fight whatever it is that's making you feel ill. Keep hydrated by drinking 3-4 quarts of water a day and eat healthy foods. This will enable your body to fight off the "bug" that is causing your symptoms.

Studies have proven that you cannot decrease the duration of the cold or flu symptoms by exercising. If you work out too hard, you actually can get sicker.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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