Got a Cold? Keep Exercising

Study shows that a head cold doesn't reduce performance or recovery

One of my favorite health writers, Gina Kolata of the New York Times, must have gotten her first cold of the winter last week because this week she wrote about exercising with a head cold. I say this because last week’s cold snap (sub-zero temps and a wind-chill to boot), served up my first head cold. And it was such a pain that I decided to quit exercising until it went away.

So I was interested to see what Kolata had dug up. She reported on a Ball State University study where researchers subjected 45 men and women to a cold virus, waited for the symptoms to peak, then conducted treadmill tests on them. In all cases, none of the test subjects saw a drop in lung function or cardiovascular and muscular strength, even though, as one of the exercise physiologist reported, they all felt like crap. Golata goes on to point out that none of the sickies suffered from a longer recovery due to exercising with a cold.

Earlier this year, I pointed out my rules for exercising when sick: If the symptoms are in your neck or higher, keep working out. If they’re below your neck, take as many days as necessary to rest and get better. But, I didn’t realize that one could keep pushing themselves hard with a cold. I’d always figured you needed to dial back the intensity and simply maintain your fitness until the virus worked its way out of your system.

Now, I can’t say you’re going to enjoy exercising with a hacking cough, running nose, and headache, but it’s nice to know that you can.