Exercise helps to boost our immune system. If the symptoms of cold are not too severe, light to moderate exercising is normally safe. Studies suggest that light exercising, less than 60 minutes a day of walking, yoga, or cycling can help you fight the common cold. If your symptoms are only above the neck (runny nose, mild cough, sneezing), then mild exercises are generally harmless although rest should always be a top priority. But what to do if you have a severe cold and flu? Is exercise any better  than rest in these cases? Let’s find out more about it.

How does working out affect a cold?

Cold is a common ailment. A study by the National Institutes of Health indicates that upper respiratory tract infections, nasal congestion, throat complaints, and cough are responsible for 11% of general practice consultations in Australia. Each year, children suffer about 5 such infections and adults have two to three infections. Exercising with a cold can have both positive and negative effects depending on the seriousness of the symptoms and the kind of exercise you are doing.

1. Positive Effects

  • Exercise increases blood circulation and provides a positive momentum. It stimulates you to take deep breaths which may relieve symptoms like nasal congestion. 
  • Exercise also promotes the release of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins that aid in improving your overall health.


Consistent physical activity can strengthen your immune system with time, possibly reducing the frequency and intensity of future colds. Regular exercise can lead to a 20% – 60% reduced risk of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)  in physically fit and active adults.

2. Negative Effects

  • An intense workout puts additional pressure on your immune system while it is already battling an infection, potentially prolonging your recovery.
  • Exercise may aggravate symptoms of fatigue, coughing, and chest congestion making you feel worse than before.
  • There is a high risk of spreading germs or sharing your sickness with others at the gym or in a group exercise class.

When should you NOT exercise with a cold?

If you are feeling under the weather and your cold and flu symptoms are too troublesome, you should avoid exercising.  Exercising with moderate to severe cold and flu symptoms can increase the risk of developing secondary infections or other complications, especially if you have underlying health conditions.  It is not advisable to exercise if you have the following symptoms. 

  1. Fever: When a cold comes with a fever, it is better to rest and chill at home. Exercising while having a fever increases your body temperature which makes you feel worse.
  2. Muscle Pain: Exercising with muscle pain can intensify the pain as well as the cold symptoms. So it’s crucial to listen to your body and only take part in physical activity if you feel you have enough energy to do so.
  3. Chest Congestion: If you have chest congestion, exercise can increase symptoms like coughing and you might have difficulty in breathing. Therefore, exercise is best skipped during this time.
  4. Fatigue: If you feel unusually tired and fatigued, you should skip exercising. Exercising at this point can further drain your energy and slow down your body’s ability to recover.


While most respiratory tract infections (URTIs) resolve without complications, exercising intensely while you are unwell may increase your risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. The overall risk is low, especially for healthy individuals, but if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations during or after exercising while you are suffering from a URTI, it is crucial that you seek medical attention immediately.

When should you exercise with a cold?

You can exercise with a cold if your symptoms are not severe such as a stuffy nose or mild cough. If you don’t have a fever and all your cold symptoms are above the neck like scratchy throat, mild body ache, or runny nose, it is usually safe to go in for light exercises.

When you are suffering from a cold, your body already feels tired and weary. It needs extra energy to fight the cold virus and make you feel better. Hence, listen to your body and engage in physical activity only if you feel you have enough energy to do it.

Best exercise to do when you have a cold

If your cold symptoms are mild then working up a sweat is mostly considered safe. When you have a cold, it is best to engage In low-impact exercises that won’t put too much pressure on your body. For outdoor activities, consider adjusting the intensity, duration, and environment based on your cold symptoms and weather conditions.  Let your body be your guide and check out the best exercise to do when you have a cold:

1. Walking: Having a cold can deplete your energy levels and you may not be up for an intense workout. Walking may help you improve your cold symptoms by promoting gentle physical activity without overexerting yourself. According to a survey revealed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM),  61% of 700 recreational runners reported fewer colds since beginning to run, while only 4 per cent felt they experienced more.

2. Yoga: Yoga and breathing exercises can help with flexibility and relaxation. Gentle body stretches can also reduce pains and aches if any.

3. Dance: Light aerobics or just dancing to your favourite tune can also have a substantial impact on your cold. Dancing is an enjoyable, low-impact activity that you can do at your tempo.

4. Tai Chi and Qi gong: These are age-old Chinese practice that involves mindful movements and meditation. It is low in intensity, enhances energy, and improves blood flow.

So, should you exercise with a cold? The discretion to exercise with a cold depends on the extremity of the symptoms and how you are feeling. Thus, listen to your body carefully, take it easy, and lay more emphasis on rest until and unless you feel better.

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.