To Work Out, Or Not to Work Out

This is what my life has come to over the last 24 hours.

Sarah’s head cold 2012 is here and in charge.

I am thankful, however, that the cold is basically focused only above the neck. I have no sore throat, my lungs feel strong, no cough. It’s basically all focused in my nasal passages. I’ve only had to deal with a stuffy nose, sneezing, and headaches. Not really being able to breathe out of my nose has definitely drained some of my energy, but I feel alright overall.

I woke up this morning sort of eager to get moving. I wasn’t tired. I felt okay (other than not being able to breathe normally) and wanted to do SOMETHING! I am not a good sick person. I am the type of person who’s first thought when I sit down is usually “what else should I be doing right now?”. I don’t rest. There is no such thing as full relaxation. I like to feel productive at all times. If I’m sitting on the couch watching TV, I may seem like I’m doing nothing, but I usually have a million other things going on at the same time. A load of laundry is probably in the washer, the dishwasher is probably running, and my laptop is open to some sort of to-do list. Sufficient to say I don’t like doing nothing, so this whole rest thing has been tough over the last day or so.

As I started to clean the apartment this morning, I noticed that my nasal passages started to open up. MIRACULOUS – I CAN BREATHE! I realized that maybe working out was a possibility today. I always knew the “neck” rule with working out while sick; if your symptoms are above the neck (stuffy/runny nose, sore throat, sneezing) it’s okay to work out, but if your symptoms are below the neck (cough, shortness of breath, body aches) no gym for you. I did a little googling this morning and found an article from 2008 in the NYT all about whether you should work out with a cold or not.

Since my symptoms are all above the neck, I knew I would be physically able to work out, but is it a good idea? Would resting help me recover better from my cold faster, and would working out hinder my recovery? Maybe not…

Once again, Dr, Kaminsky and his colleagues infected volunteers with a rhinovirus. This time, the subjects were 34 young men and women who were randomly assigned to a group that would exercise with their colds and 16 others who were assigned to rest.

The group that exercised ran on treadmills for 40 minutes every other day at moderate levels of 70 percent of their maximum heart rates.

Every 12 hours, all the subjects in the study completed questionnaires about their symptoms and physical activity. The researchers collected the subjects’ used facial tissues, weighing them to assess their cold symptoms.

The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”


I thought this article was really interesting. It seems that working out if you have a head cold does not hinder recovery from that cold, in fact, some people actually felt better. That’s awesome news – especially since my last long run before the half marathon is tomorrow.

So with that, it looks like I will be working out today. I’ll be taking it pretty easy; maybe a 2 mile run on the treadmill and some weight training, but nothing crazy. Not HIIT today, no hills, no speed intervals, just a nice and easy workout.


Readers: How do you deal with being sick? Do you indulge in resting, or are you just restless like me? What is your favorite remedy for a cold?

6 thoughts on “To Work Out, Or Not to Work Out

  1. I know you probably have a good grasp on your cold and I’m probably going to sound a lot like your mother and emphasize lots of warm liquids and rest but I also had a few ideas to help you beat it.

    Misconceptions: vitamin C and orange juice- While you think these two things as part of the go-to cold remedy along with chicken noodle soup, sleep and Dayquill taught to us by our mothers, are actually only effective in preventing colds- not treating them.
    Vitamin C, as a remedy, only works to prevent colds and viruses from establishing a foothold in our bodies by boosting our body’s natural immune system and are actually not effective once a cold has set it. In fact, large doses of vitamin C such as those found in OTC supplement tablets and Emergen-C can actually somewhat lower your immune system once a cold has set in. Furthermore, Vitamin C and orange juice in particular should be really only used once someone is feeling a cold come on or is anticipating a cold because it has little to no effect once the cold has established itself. Now, I do not recommend cutting these out of your diet completely when you have a cold because of their other beneficial health aspects, I would recommend they not be included in your first-line of defense toward dealing with a cold once you have one…

    My recommendation:
    1) Sleep- Nothing beats a cold or feeling under-the-weather like sleep… lots and lots of sleep…
    2) Hydration (lots of luke-warm water)- During a cold, your body requires extra fluids and so staying hydrated is extra important. Why luke-warm you ask? Warm water, as unappetizing it sounds, helps loosen up any phlegm and ‘gunk’ that might be stuck or hanging out in your esophagus. Also, it helps to increase your body’s natural core temperature (even for a few minutes), which helps boost your immune system. Thus, luke-warm water is ideal because you want warm water, but not too warm that it is too hard to drink, and the whole idea is to stay as hydrated as possible.
    3) Non-caffeinated tea with LEMON and HONEY. This works as a 1-2 punch for any type of cold symptom; be it nasal congestion, cough, runny nose, sore throat or fatigue. Warm tea acts to provide important anti-oxidents that fight on behalf of your immune system and increases your core temperature to speed up your immune response (as discussed above). Furthermore, this is ideal for runny noses and nasal congestion as well because the warmth opens up your nasal passages and temporarily suppressed the swelling causing any congestion. The acidity of the lemon acts to further loosen any ‘gunk’ in your through and suppress any coughing you might experience. The honey acts to provide a quick boost of sugar and energy to your system as well as naturally coating the lining of your throat to naturally sooth any sore throat or cough.
    4) Echinacea- Above I told you how vitamin C works to prevent colds and viruses but didn’t tell you what to do once it set in and your life has turned miserable… Well here’s your answer: Echinacea. This is an herbal supplement so many people are doubtful and skeptical- and I completely understand and am sympathetic to. However, from personal experience, professional practice and community experience, I can tell you it works. It does so, opposite of vitamin C, wherein it works only once you have a cold or virus and has little to no preventative application. It is available in both tea and capsule forms at any local pharmacy.

    Remember, there’s no substitute for sleep, chicken-noodle soup, and more sleep… In the end, maybe taking a day or two off from running isnt the worst thing because you don’t want this cold to drag on being so close to your half-marathon. Besides, there’s much worst things than restlessness… Feel better!

    -Your friendly local Pharmacist.

  2. I’m actually battling a small “above neck” cold as well right now…mainly just having to blow my nose every five seconds. I’ll be going to spin today as usual though! Because working out generally makes me feel better/recover quickly. 🙂 Good luck with your long run!

  3. Wow this post is right on point. I had a cold all last week and wrestled with this dilemma. Your post and the article (and the comment!) were very helpful. I, however, would not want to be the person who got to weigh the “used facial tissues” in the referenced study.

    • Glad that the post helped you! I feel like this is a battle that all runners/exercise enthusiasts battle every cold/flu season. I can only imagine how gross that was. I used about 10 tissues over the course of the 2 miles I did at the gym on Saturday. yuck.

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