Any hardy soul who runs regularly through winter will at some point get a cold, and have to decide whether to run with a cold, or rest. It might seem obvious to just cancel any plans to exercise when you’re ill, but when you’ve been closely following a running training plan it can be frustrating to skip a session, especially when preparing for a marathon.
It’s also not clear cut that you should rest when you have a cold, because if your symptoms are mild it might be beneficial to get out for an easy run, as pharmacist Nick Thayer from Well Pharmacy told us in 2018 when we asked him about running with a cold.
“There is evidence that shows moderate exercise stresses the body and can help stimulate your immune system, in turn creating anti-inflammatory responses,” says Thayer. “This means that moderate exercise can actually help you get better more quickly, so if you feel well enough to get out there and run, go for it.”
As you might expect, Thayer heavily caveated this advice, and it’s important to only exercise if your symptoms are mild and “above-the-neck”. This means things like a runny nose, sore throat and a blocked nose.
If you feel symptoms below your neck, and you have a hacking cough, chest congestion or an upset stomach, then you should not run with a cold. It’s better to rest up. That’s also true if you have a fever, though most people will not feel like running if that is the case, and people with asthma have to be particularly careful, especially when it’s cold outside.
I have run with a mild cold many times myself and stick to 30 minutes max, at a very easy pace, and it usually helps me to feel a little better. Regular moderate exercise in general will also make you healthier and more resistant to common colds, though this only goes so far in protecting you if you have kids in nursery and school, I find.
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.