Running with a cold certainly doesn’t sound appealing to most, but to most runners, it usually seems like a better option that slumming it on the couch. However, the question of whether or not to run with a cold can be a bit controversial.
Can you run with a cold?
The answer to whether or not you should run with a cold falls into a bit of a grey area. However, most running coaches and physicians agree that the answer varies depending on the type and severity of the cold.
In most cases, it is okay to proceed with caution when running with a head cold. However, anything more serious – such as a sinus infection, fever, cough or the flu – is likely going to do more harm than good.
Regardless of the specific “diagnosis”, it is incredibly important to listen to your body. Just because a friend went on a run with a cold doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea for you to do so as well.
Will running with a head cold relieve symptoms?
In some very mild cases, heading out for a run with a cold might actually help improve symptoms. When symptoms are entirely above the neck – stuffy nose, headache, etc. – running can help reduce their severity.
According to Mayo Clinic, blood flow to the legs is prioritized when running, which can in turn help relieve congestion, pressure or excess mucous.
However, if you go running with anything more severe than a head cold, it’s likely that the physical act will wear your body down even more so – resulting in worsened symptoms.
Should You Run with a Cold: When to Run and When to Rest
Without a formal medical evaluation, it is difficult to give a definitive answer as to whether or not you should run with a cold. However, there are some widely accepted guidelines that can help make your decision easier. And you can continue to fine tune these guidelines by listening and responding to your body.
Above the Neck Symptoms
When symptoms are presenting as a head cold only, running is unlikely to worsen the symptoms. This would include symptoms such as headache, stuffy or runny nose, or general nasal pressure.
However, even with only above the neck symptoms, it’s still important to keep an eye on heart rate during a run. An unusually high heart rate indicates that something is not quite right, and running is making your body work extra hard.
Below the Neck Symptoms
When symptoms are appearing either solely below the neck, or both above and below the neck, running will likely make symptoms worse and delay recovery. Below the neck symptoms, such as full body aches, chills or coughing are usually representative of more serious illnesses than simply a cold.
It’s safest to avoid running with below the neck symptoms, and to wait at least 24 – 48 hours after recovering to resume running again.
Running with a Head Cold
According to most coaches and medical professionals, running with a head cold is generally considered safe – provided that symptoms are presenting only above the neck. Continue to monitor your heart rate and listen to your body. If a run seems to worsen the symptoms, rest until they subside.
Running with a Cough
Most coaches would advise against running with a cough. Coughing originates in the lungs, making it a “below the neck” symptom. Coughing usually indicates that a cold is more serious and has the potential to develop into other illnesses, such as pneumonia.
Continue to rest until your cough has been gone for at least 24 – 48 hours.
Running with a Runny Nose or Sore Throat
In many cases, running with a cold that consists of a runny nose and/or sore throat is generally considered safe. However, pay extra attention to your symptoms and energy levels – if a run makes you feel significantly more tired, dehydrated or symptomatic, take some time off.
Running with a Fever
While a fever is technically an “above the neck” symptom, it is usually a sign of a more serious illness. Most colds do not include a fever, so if you find yourself trying to use the “above the neck” rule with a fever – it’s time to re-evaluate whether or not you’re actually sick with a cold.
Running raises the body temperature, which can be dangerous when it’s already elevated due to a fever. In just about every case, it is safest to continue to rest and avoid running while your fever persists.
8 Tips to Run with a Cold
When running is a regular part of your day and week, it’s likely that you’ll encounter a time when your only choice is to run with a cold. Most runners have experienced running with a cold at least a time or two during training – and many say that it is actually preferred over staying on the couch.
Here are some tips for those times when you’re stuck running with a cold. Knowing how to adjust your training to help your body recover quicker and what signs indicate something more serious is key to success.
Slow the pace
Even if your lungs and legs feel fine, it’s important to take things slow… like, really slow. When running with a cold, pace and intensity should be drastically less than usual. Your pace might slow 1 to 3 minutes per mile – and that’s okay. Don’t push it, and listen to your body.
Ditch structured workouts
Something to avoid when running with a head cold or sinus infection are structured workouts. Completing intervals, tempo runs, hill repeats or strides require significantly more physical exertion than an easy, relaxed run. As your body tries to heal from a cold, it’s important to allow all of its extra energy to go towards recovery – not nailing a workout.
Another way to reduce the intensity during a run with a cold is to decrease your distance. Many runners find that they are able to maintain overall consistency when running with a cold, but they can’t always meet their distance demands. Long runs should be shortened and kept in the mid-distance range until your body recovers.
Listen to your body
This is perhaps the most important tip for running with a cold: listen to your body. Every single person is different, and so is every cold. If you feel worse or more symptomatic after running, scale things back or take some time off.
Hydrate and rehydrate
Hydration is key to recovery when it comes to colds (or any illness, really), but running causes your body to sweat and lose fluid. Staying on top of your hydration is especially important when running with a cold. Prioritize drinking water before, during and after a run more than ever.
Run close to home
It’s important to leave your options open when you head out for a run with a cold. Running close to home provides and easy exit or escape if something feels off mid-run and you can’t run as far as you originally had scheduled.
Dress for the weather
Whether it’s hot or cold, you’ll want to dress appropriately – especially with a cold. Running in the winter with a head cold means that you should take extra steps to ensure your body is not cold. Similarly, if you’re running with a cold in the summer, be sure to dress in layers to avoid overheating.
Track your heart rate
Our heart rate is a great indicator of how hard the body is working. If you set out for an easy run with a cold, but notice that your heart rate is well above a normal “easy” zone, it’s a sign that your body is not ready to run.
If you’re experiencing a mild head cold, running is a great way to encourage circulation, get some fresh air, and maintain your mental sanity. Sticking to your usual running frequency with modified intensity and distance is a great way to make it through the cold.
As always, even though there are guidelines, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust based on the signals it is sending you. Taking time off when you have a cold is certainly always a safe option. A few days of rest now are better than a forced few weeks or months later due to a more serious illness.
Stay safe, listen to your body, and take it easy. Things will be back to normal soon!