So, You Caught a Cold. Should You Keep Exercising?

It can be pretty frustrating: You have hit a positive groove with your workout schedule, really seeing results in your running/swimming/cycling time and strength, and then—you get a cold. As you blow your nose for the 14th time in an hour, you think about how the 5-7 days the average cold lasts will really set you back, and you wonder how long it will take you to get back to your current level. In my experience, it’s two weeks. One week off for the cold, then another to build strength back up.

But you don’t actually don’t have to stop exercise for a common cold; it doesn’t affect the longevity of the illness, nor its severity. Surprised? So was I. But two small studies at Ball State University roundly prove what serious athletes have known for a long time—moderate exercise (which of course can vary in definition according to the person) can’t hurt, and in the short term, can even make you feel better.

Two studies looked into the question; one looked at how exercise affected severity of a cold, and the other longevity. Of course a control group, that rested, was used for comparison. There was no difference between the resters and exercisers. And when the exercisers reported on their symptoms to the researchers, Dr. Leonard Kaminsky (also a trainer at Ball State) told the New York Times Well blog, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”

Keep in mind this experiment was done with otherwise healthy college students who had only been exposed to a typical cold virus. If you have other health issues, or chest congestion, or a fever (or other signs of the flu), resting is probably best when you are ill. And I would add that going to your gym when you have a cold—and spreading it around—is unfair to your fellow exercisers. Work out at home (try one of those free yoga routines online, take a long walk outside, or use your home fitness equipment).

But no need to lie in bed all day binge-watching your favorite series just because you have a cold—unless you need an excuse to take a break, of course.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

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Julianna D.
Juliana D4 years ago


Debbie Miller
Debbie Miller4 years ago

Yes, this actually makes sense to me. I have done both sides of the equation and both worked fine.... but if you can exercise through it, it seems it would be of more benefit... unless like the article said: if you are really needing to rest. I say listen to your body for the most part.

Sandra A.
Sandra A4 years ago

Thumbs down to this article.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Sandra I.
Sandra I4 years ago

Thank you for stating that going to the gym will spread it around. People are so selfish about being sick and always go to work or the gym or the store and spread around their germs. If you get a cold stay home!

Dale O.

Thankfully I don't get colds very often, but I think that moderate exercise is fine but do it in a place where others don't congregate. Going to a gym is not fair while you are contagious. I have gone to a coffee shop and there was an employee exercising her right to go to work while coughing up a storm in the serving area, so I exercised my option and went elsewhere.

I will go outside to a rather isolated area where there are no people and perhaps walk around even if it is -30, but not for too long as one's body needs some rest to heal and some hot home made soup always helps as well.

Thank you Pamela W for exercising your option to rid Care2 of spam!

Ana Marija R.
ANA MARIJA R4 years ago

Why not lying in bed all day binge-watching my favorite series? I don't mind once in the few years: XD

John Wesen
Past Member 4 years ago

It's common sense, it didn't need to be an article.

John B.
John B4 years ago

Thanks Kara for sharing the article but rest and fluids not exercise is what I do.

Wesley Struebing
Wesley Struebing4 years ago

Sort of depends on whether you wind up with strep in addition to the cold (quite common) That particular nasty also like to attack your heart, so aerobic exercise is probably out for the nonce.