Getting sick with a cold is never fun. Your head is congested, your body aches, you’re exhausted – all you want to do is rest. But if you’re an avid exerciser, you may be eager to get back into your normal routine as soon as possible. So when is it safe to exercise again after having a cold? Here’s what you need to know.
How Long Do Colds Last?
Colds are caused by viruses and typically last around 7-10 days from the onset of symptoms. However, each cold is different, and yours may last a little longer or shorter than the average. The most contagious period is during the first 2-3 days when symptoms like coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat are at their worst.
Even after the worst has passed, you still may not feel 100% better for a week or two. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself to exercise before you’ve fully recovered.
Is Exercising With a Cold Bad?
Trying to exercise when you have a cold can slow down your recovery. Here’s why:
- Your immune system is already working hard to fight off the cold virus. The added stress of exercise can weaken your immune response.
- Colds often make it harder to breathe through your nose. Vigorous exercise requires extra oxygen, which can be tougher when congested.
- Colds sap your energy levels. Pushing through fatigue to exercise can stress your body.
- Exercise can worsen cold symptoms like coughing, body aches, and headaches.
So in most cases, it’s best to rest and recover when you have a cold rather than try to exercise. But there are some exceptions.
When Light Exercise May Be Okay
If your cold symptoms are mild, like a runny nose and slight cough, light exercise may be fine as long as you follow these precautions:
- Stick to low-intensity workouts like walking, gentle yoga, or leisurely biking. Avoid high-intensity activities.
- Exercise for a shorter duration than usual, about half your normal time.
- Stop immediately if symptoms worsen or you feel unwell.
- Stay hydrated and listen to your body.
- Avoid the gym to prevent spreading germs. Exercise at home or outside instead.
However, if your cold is worse than just minor congestion, it’s best not to exercise at all until you’re better.
Signs You Should Avoid Exercise
Here are some signs that indicate your cold is too severe to exercise safely:
- Fever of 100°F (37.8°C) or higher
- Body aches and chills
- Fatigue, weakness or malaise
- Chest congestion, wheezing, or shortness of breath
- A persistent cough that produces mucus
- Head congestion or sinus pressure
- Sore throat or swollen lymph nodes
When several of these symptoms are present, avoid exercise and give your body proper rest. Pushing yourself too soon could delay recovery or make symptoms worse.
How Long Should You Wait to Exercise After a Cold?
There isn’t a single rule for when it’s okay to start exercising again after a cold, since each illness is different. Here are some general guidelines on when you’re likely ready:
- 1-2 days after mild symptoms improve: If you had a minor cold with slight congestion and fatigue, light exercise may be fine after 1-2 days of improvement. See how you feel first.
- 3-5 days after moderate symptoms improve: If your cold is worse but you’re starting to turn the corner, wait at least 3 days after the peak of symptoms before resuming light exercise. Give yourself 5 days before moderate activity.
- 1+ weeks after severe symptoms improve: With a harsh cold involving high fever, deep chest congestion, or persistent cough, wait at least 1 week after significant improvement before considering exercise. Increase activity gradually.
Listen to your body over any timeline. If you still feel run down or are coughing a lot, give it more time. It’s better to wait a few extra days than have a relapse.
Easing Back Into Exercise After a Cold
When you finally feel ready to start working out again, ease back into it gradually:
- Begin with light cardio like walking or gentle cycling for 15-30 minutes.
- Stick to lower intensity and shorter durations at first. Build back up slowly over days or weeks.
- Pay attention to breathing and heart rate. Congestion can persist slightly, so don’t overexert.
- Drink extra fluids before, during, and after exercise to stay hydrated.
- Choose outdoor workouts over the gym to avoid germ exposure.
- Get plenty of rest between workout days. Listen to your body and take it slow.
- Stop immediately if you feel dizzy, have trouble breathing, or your symptoms worsen.
Other Recovery Tips
To help your body heal and get back to exercise safely after having a cold:
- Get enough sleep. Aim for at least 8 hours per night.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water, broths, and caffeine-free beverages.
- Take over-the-counter meds as needed for symptom relief.
- Use humidifiers, saline rinses, vapor rubs, and other congestion remedies.
- Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke, which can slow recovery.
Be patient with your body. Rest as long as you need to fully recover before returning to your normal exercise routine. The extra few days of rest can help you regain strength and prevent recurrence of symptoms.
How long should you rest before exercising after a cold?
It depends on severity, but aim for at least 1-2 days after mild symptoms improve, 3-5 days after moderate symptoms, and 1+ weeks after severe symptoms before resuming exercise. Always listen to your body.
Can exercise make a cold worse?
Yes. High-intensity exercise while sick can hinder immune function, increase congestion, worsen symptoms, and delay recovery. Take it easy until your cold has significantly improved.
Is walking okay if I have a mild cold?
Walking and other light exercise may be fine if you have no fever and just minor congestion or cough. Keep the duration and intensity low and stop if symptoms worsen.
Should I skip the gym if I’m getting over a cold?
Yes, it’s best to avoid the gym and public places where you could spread the cold virus or pick up new germs. Work out at home until you’ve fully recovered.
How can I ease back into exercise after a bad cold?
Start with lower intensity and shorter durations. Build back up slowly over days or weeks. Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and listen to your body. Stop immediately if symptoms recur.
Having patience with recovery is key after being sick with a cold. While regular exercise provides many health perks, working out too soon after a cold can hinder your progress. Give your immune system time to rest and recuperate before jumpstarting your normal fitness routines. With adequate rest and a gradual return to exercise, you’ll be back to feeling your best in no time.