We've all had that internal debate: Am I too sick to work out, or will exercising actually make me feel better?
Low to moderate exercise can sometimes improve your immune response when suffering from common cold symptoms — like a sore throat.
However, if your sore throat is accompanied by additional symptoms, like a fever, you may want to avoid exercise until your symptoms subside.
Here are five questions to consider when debating whether you should exercise with that sore throat or not.
Always consult a physician before exercising with a sore throat if you have other health problems, are elderly or pregnant, or still aren't sure whether you should work out.
When suffering from a sore throat and exercising, drink plenty of water, eat a well-rounded diet and get plenty of rest to avoid prolonging or worsening symptoms.
1. Is It a Cold, or Something Else?
While many viral and bacterial infections may cause a sore throat, the rhinovirus is one of the most common — hence the name, "the common cold," per the CDC.
It's generally OK to exercise with a sore throat if that sore throat is a symptom of a cold, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, a moderate sweat session may even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion.
If your sore throat is accompanied by a fever, however, the Mayo Clinic advises against exercise. In addition, if you've been diagnosed with a contagious condition, you'll want to stay away from the gym.
2. Are Your Symptoms Above the Neck?
If your answer to this question is "yes" and you're fever-free, it's probably OK to workout, per the Mayo Clinic.
Just to be clear, "above the neck" signs and symptoms associated with a cold may include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat.
"Below the neck" symptoms, including chest congestion, a hacking cough or an upset stomach, should be a signal to forgo your workout for some rest.
3. What Kind of Exercise Are You Planning?
If you're feeling under the weather with a sore throat or cold, you might want to turn down the intensity of your upcoming workout.
Low to moderate exercise may be beneficial if you're experiencing cold symptoms from the neck up, such as a sore throat, per the American College of Sports Medicine.
Walking, cycling, stretching and yoga are some examples of low to moderate intensity exercises.
Remember: Fitting physical activity into your day is already benefitting your health. Not every workout needs to be intense to be beneficial.
High-intensity exercise may add unnecessary stress to your immune system, so it's wise to stay away when you're dealing with a sore throat. High-intensity exercise includes endurance activities, heavy weightlifting and competitions.
Slowing down or reducing the duration of your exercise routine are also easy ways to decrease the intensity of a workout, and doing so can ensure your safety, per the Mayo Clinic. If you overdo it, you may put yourself at risk for injury or feeling even sicker.
4. What Is Your Body Telling You?
Whether you can exercise if you have a cold should, in part, depend on how you're feeling. If your body is exhausted and you're feeling run down, you should probably take these symptoms as a sign to rest.
The Mayo Clinic says to let your body be your guide. If you're feeling off, know that a few days away from the gym won't affect your physical fitness in the long-term; if anything, the break will let your body recover faster.
Once you're feeling an improvement in your health, gradually ease back in to your exercise routine. Most people recover from colds within seven to 10 days, per the CDC.
5. Where Will You Be Exercising?
Even if you're up for a workout, hitting the gym when you're contagious is inconsiderate (and dangerous) to those around you.
So if you're considering going to your favorite fitness studio or the gym when a sore throat is persistent, examine your other symptoms first.
Respiratory infections, like the flu and common cold, are mostly spread through aerosolized droplets. So when you sneeze or cough, those droplets enter the air and can get into the mouth or nose of a gym-goer nearby.
Alternatively, these droplets can land on the equipment around you, which can be transmitted to the person who uses the machine next.
For the sake of your fellow gym-goers, it's probably best to keep your workout super local — like in your home or outdoors — especially if you're sneezing or coughing a lot. If this option isn't possible, take a few rest days until your symptoms subside.
The gym will be happy to have you back when you're feeling like your healthy old self again.
Is This an Emergency?
- American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise and The Common Cold; David C. Nieman, Dr.P.H., FACSM, et al.
- Exercise Sport Sciences Reviews: Exercise and Respiratory Tract Viral Infections
- Exercise Immunology Review: The Open Window of Susceptibility to Infection After Acute Exercise in Healthy Young Male Elite Athletes
- CDC: "Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others"