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Should You Exercise When You Have a Cold?

Committed exercisers dread getting sick because they have to stop exercising. They know it is easy to lose momentum and difficult to start again. So what should they do if they are feeling under the weather? Should they continue exercising? How long should they rest? How soon can they return to exercise?

Neck check
You can exercise at a much lower intensity as long as you don’t have a fever and your symptoms are “above the neck” — runny nose, sneezing or a sore throat. As soon as your symptoms disappear, you can resume intense workouts immediately.

However, if you have “below the neck” signs like extreme tiredness, muscle aches, vomiting, chills, swollen lymph glands or a hacking cough, don’t even think of exercising. When you have recovered, gradually increase exercise intensity. Only resume intense workouts after at least two weeks.

Never exercise when you have a fever because of increased risk of dehydration, heat stroke, and even heart failure. When you are well, exercise for two days at a lower intensity for every day that you were sick.

Plan your return.
Consciously plan when your return to exercise and how you are going to do it. If you don’t, you may never exercise again. I know people who stopped exercising for one year after they came down with the flu because they delayed resuming their workouts.

Don’t infect or become infected.
If you exercise in a gym or other in¬door environments, work out during the less crowded hours. Colds and flu viruses are passed through contaminated drop¬lets in the air that have been sneezed or coughed by someone with a cold. These viruses also linger in the objects around you. When you touch these objects, your hands pick up the virus and you infect yourself when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth. So, for your own protection and the protection of others, always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often and keep them away from your face.

Decongestants make it easier for you to breathe by tightening or constricting blood vessels so there is more air space in the swollen tissues of upper airways. Some decongestants, however, constrict blood vessels throughout the body and can cause blood pressure and heart rate to rise. If you have a history of hypertension, ask your doctor which decongestants are appropriate for you.

Antihistamines or anti-allergy medications are sometimes used to dry up mucus membranes in people with colds. They don’t have a direct effect on blood pressure or heart rate but some types make you drowsy. If you exercise, take a non-drowsy formula.

A certain type of antibiotic called quinolones has been implicated in ruptured tendons of the heel, shoulder, and hand. You can recognize quinolones by the following generic names: amifloxacin, norfloxacin, lomefloxacin, olfloxacin. The first warning is pain in the tendons due to inflammation or tendonitis. If you have to use this type of antibiotic, avoid heavy weightlifting.

Mild stretching
Mild stretching is one form of exercise that you can usually do even when you are feeling rotten. You don’t have to worry about your body temperature going sky high or getting breathless and exhausted. It doesn’t zap your energy either. In fact, mild stretching makes you feel better by relieving body aches and pains and loosening up stiff joints.

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