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Exercise When You Have a Cold

It’s that time of year again—sore throats and the sniffles seem to be abundant and hard to avoid. With a change in your normal health status, you may question how being sick influences your physical activity routine.

Prevention is key and a great way to decrease the risk of getting sick is engaging in regular exercise. Studies have shown exercise helps our immune system fight small infections, like a cold. However, if your immune system is unable to fight the infections, questions about being active remain.

What if you are already sick? Is it safe to exercise?

Exercise can boost your immune system, so it is generally safe to exercise when you have a cold. If you choose to exercise with a cold, it’s important to pay attention to your body. It is best to reduce the intensity and length of your workout to avoid further decline in your health. Some medications, such as decongestants, can increase heart rate. Likewise, your heart rate is increased with exercise. The combination of exercise and decongestants can cause your heart to pump very hard, and you may become short of breath and have problems breathing. If a fever is present with your cold, consult with your doctor before engaging in activity.

If you exercise with a cold and have any of the following symptoms, it’s important to stop and call your doctor:

  • Increased chest congestion
  • Coughing and/or wheezing

Stop and seek emergency medical help if you have:

  • Chest tightness or pressure
  • Trouble breathing or excessive shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Difficulty with balance

If you have a cold and feel miserable, take a day or two off from normal exercise to get needed rest. A great preventative action against influenza, or “the flu,” is getting your flu shot. Getting a flu shot will prevent the flu in about 70-90% of people under the age of 65!

See more at SDSU Extension