Exercise when you have a cold: the most important questions and answers

Sport bei Erkältung: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

Do you have a cold and want to do sports? You don't know what to believe because some people advise against exercising when you have a cold and others advise you to do so?

Especially if you train regularly or have only recently conquered your weaker self, it's annoying when a cold gets in the way. In this article we answer the most important questions and help you to find out whether you can continue with the sport or whether you should take a break and recover.

the essentials in brief

  • Exercising when you have a cold depends entirely on your symptoms and how you feel. If you feel good and only have mild symptoms, you don't have to give up sport.
  • If you exercise while you have a cold, you should reduce your intensity. Overexertion can damage your immune system and heart muscle inflammation could result.
  • However, light physical activity when you have a cold stimulates the immune system and provides a better defense against the infection.

Exercise when you have a cold: what you should know

Because a cold can have many manifestations, whether you should exercise when you have a cold is highly individual and depends on your symptoms and how well you are feeling. In the following we explain what you should pay attention to in order to be able to answer this question for yourself.

Exercise when you have a cold – healthy or dangerous?

Many who have just overcome their weaker self or who train regularly ask themselves this question, because they don't want to lose their rhythm if they don't have to. The answer to this question is: both, and. Exercising when you have a cold can be healthy if you have mild symptoms and a low level of stress. With severe symptoms and a high level of stress, sport can quickly become dangerous when you have a cold.

Basically, there are the following advantages and disadvantages:

  • No missed training
  • Light exercise boosts the immune system
  • Too much stress puts strain on the immune system
  • risk of procrastination
  • risk of secondary diseases
  • In the following we will go into more detail on these points.

    What are the symptoms of exercise when you have a cold?

    In the case of a mild cold, the symptoms are usually rather harmless. If all you have is a runny nose, a little sniffle, or a mild sore throat, then you don't have to give up physical activity (1).

    A cold

    If you just have a cold, it doesn't have to stop you from exercising. Your body can fight the common cold as well as endure low-moderate intensity exercise. (Image source: Diana Polekhina / unsplash)

    These symptoms usually affect your well-being only slightly. So if you still feel fit and not exhausted, you can do low-intensity exercise.

    What exercise can you do when you have a cold?

    If you only have mild cold symptoms and you still feel fit, you can do sports. But not every type and intensity of sport is advisable. Moderate training is recommended (2.3). This can be, for example, walking, or swimming or cycling at low intensity.

    Your well-being is crucial: if you feel fit with mild symptoms, you can do sports.

    If you normally do intensive sports, you should reduce the intensity when you have a cold and take it slow, after all, your body cannot give 100% either, because it is still busy with the cold.

    Which sports should you avoid doing when you have a cold?

    You should avoid intensive sports that demand a lot from you, even if you have mild cold symptoms (4.5). These include weight training and endurance sports.

    This is because these sports also affect the immune system, and the immune system should focus primarily on fighting the common cold. However, when the immune system is engaged in physical activity, it cannot do so adequately and this can have dangerous consequences.

    sport Suitable for mild cold symptoms
    walking low - moderate intensity
    To go biking low - moderate intensity
    To swim low - moderate intensity
    weight training prefer to do without
    endurance sports prefer to do without
    team sport prefer to do without

    In summary, if you have a cold, you should rather focus on sports that allow a low to moderate intensity. You should also avoid team sports, if only to reduce the risk of infection for your team members and because team sports often require a high level of physical activity.

    What should you watch out for when exercising with a cold?

    Aside from making sure that you only exercise at a low to moderate intensity when you have a cold, there are other factors to look out for.

    You should avoid extreme conditions. This applies to both extreme cold and extreme heat. Both put additional stress on your body, and even though you exercise at low intensity and with mild symptoms, it can be harmful to you.

    You should also make sure that you drink enough. This is something that's very important when exercising anyway, but when you're exercising with a cold, it's essential.

    What symptoms should you avoid exercising when you have a cold?

    Unfortunately, not all colds have mild symptoms. Cough, fever and lethargy often accompany it. In this case, you should definitely give up sports and stay in bed until you have recovered. Forcing you to exercise could end up with serious consequences (1).

    Stronger cold

    If you have some symptoms, you should avoid exercising. If you have a fever, one thing is clear: first recover, then exercise! (Image source: Myriam Zilles / unsplash)

    If you have severe cold symptoms, your well-being is also affected, you feel weak and have no energy. You should take this as a sign to rest and stay in bed.

    Can I exercise with antibiotics?

    Doctors and pharmacists often warn that you should not exercise while taking antibiotics. This is because antibiotics can also put additional strain on the body. In addition, there are some factors that hinder their effect in the body. (12). Therefore, it is recommended that you return to exercise 2-3 days after you last took an antibiotic .

    Anyone who expects a faster recovery from taking antibiotics should know that these only make sense in the case of bacterial infections and are only prescribed if the severe cold has not passed after 10 days. Careless use of antibiotics can lead to resistance (6).

    However, it is good to know that taking antibiotics will not adversely affect your athletic performance once you have recovered and stopped taking antibiotics (6).

    Can I exercise with painkillers?

    Here the answer is a clear: No! Pain and discomfort are signals from your body that something is wrong with you and that you should act accordingly. If you numb that discomfort and pain with painkillers, you're only treating a symptom. However, the cause remains.

    The symptoms show that something is wrong. If you suppress them, the causes still remain.

    If you then feel better thanks to the painkiller and go to sport, you can increase the cause of your discomfort, but you won't notice it. So you don't know what to stop. When the effect of the painkillers has worn off, you'll get the full consequences.

    What are the risks of exercising when you have a cold?

    Your body is under a lot of stress thanks to the cold. Exercising when you have a cold puts additional strain on your body. This entails various risks.

    The additional stress weakens your physical defenses against the infection. This can make your cold take longer to clear up and put you at risk of spreading it (7,8>. So if you're suffering from more severe symptoms, you may be carrying them around for weeks if you don't catch the cold cure properly.

    A weakened immune system can also mean that your body cannot protect itself against new infections, such as bacterial infections

    Light exercise is beneficial for mild symptoms. If you feel fit enough, you can use it to increase the resources of your immune system. (Image source: Jonathan Borba / unsplash)

    As already mentioned, however, you should make sure that you don't set the intensity of the sport too high, because that strains your immune system instead of strengthening it and diverts the important resources away from the cold.

    Can a cold be trained away with exercise?

    If the end of the cold is in sight, you can do some light training to ensure that more immune system cells are produced to help fight the cold. However, this only happens in small amounts, so that an accelerated recovery is hardly detectable (10). But if that makes you feel good, you can take it slow.

    Unfortunately, the argument "You have to sweat out a cold" doesn't apply here, because sweating with fever and sweating during sports are different things.

    Unfortunately, when you are in the middle of a cold, you cannot use sport to "train away" the cold. On the contrary, if you have severe symptoms, you are much more likely to aggravate your condition through exercise.

    However, if you are just beginning a cold or notice a cold developing slowly, exercising can sometimes prevent the cold from fully breaking out and causing severe symptoms (11). Here, too, the principle applies that moderate physical activity provides more resources in the immune system, while intensive sport tends to stress the immune system (8).

    Is there an alternative to exercise when you have a cold?

    If you want to exercise despite a cold but are not yet fit enough for sports, a walk is a great alternative. You are in motion without overexerting yourself. You can determine the length and speed of your walk yourself. You can also intersperse breaks as needed.


    A walk is a great alternative to exercising when you have a cold, because you don't put too much strain on the immune system, but you still get some exercise and you're also out in the fresh air. (Image source: Arek Adeoye / unsplash)

    In addition, the fresh air in which you move is good for you and you fill up on vitamin D. Only when it is stormy or snowing should you perhaps limit yourself to a walk in your own four walls, because dampness and cold could affect your condition aggravate.


    As you can see, the question of whether you should exercise when you have a cold depends on various factors. Mild symptoms allow physical activity with low to moderate intensity. If you have severe symptoms, you should rather refrain from exercising and wait until you have recovered.

    If you do decide to exercise if your symptoms are mild, be sure to scale back the intensity of your exercise. Your body can benefit from this by creating new resources for your immune system.

    If you don't pay attention to this, this positive effect is lost and the defense against the common cold and other pathogens is weakened, which can lead to a longer illness and even to myocarditis. If in doubt, you should stay in bed and recover to get a healthy start again.



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