I woke up the other day with a sore throat for the second time in just over a month. I hate to interrupt my training schedule, especially the running. I am so slow at building up my distance that taking too much time out will set me back. And since I think of all of my fitness training as part of an overall commitment to taking good care of myself, it would be counterproductive to push on in ways that make me worse off.
And it’s just not all that inviting to go out into the cold when you have a cold. I’m not the right kind of doctor to be dishing out medical advice, but I’ll tell you what I decided to do based on a bit of internet research I did.
Most of what I read said to “listen to your body.” But they also suggested, as a general rule: If it’s above the neck only, then go for it. If it’s below the neck (i.e. in your chest and affecting your breathing, accompanied by any stomach issues like vomiting or diarrhea, fever, muscle ache), then it’s probably a good idea to take a break.
Of course, the main issue is that no one wants to make the cold worse by compromising the immune system. A 2003 study by the American College of Medicine showed that moderate intensity exercise doesn’t make a cold worse. However, the same study showed that high intensity exercise appears to weaken the immune system in people with colds.
Based on the little I read, I decided to go running that morning. I kept to my usual pace (it’s not all that demanding) and broke it up (as I always do at the moment), with short periods of brisk walking. I felt good when I was out there. And I even had the energy to go to a hot yoga flow class a couple of hours later. I’m glad I did.
Another good piece of information my reading yielded is that people who engage in regular moderate exercise don’t get as many colds. I like the idea that an active lifestyle can boost your immune system. It makes sense that part of overall fitness is a strong immune system.
One thing about colds is that if you do NOT have a cold, it’s kind of unpleasant to be around people who do. I’m a bit germ phobic at the best of times, so I feel this intensely.
Especially at places with shared equipment (like gyms), or contained spaces like the hot yoga studio, it’s inconsiderate to push ahead with my schedule if I am sneezing and coughing and sputtering all over the place. If I feel well enough to work out but appear sick enough to make others nervous to be around me, common courtesy usually nudges me in the direction of modifying my routine to minimize contact with other people.
Of course, the usual stuff applies: whether you have a cold or not, wash your hands regularly; if you have cold, don’t overdo it (because intense activity does make it worse); and pay attention to your symptoms. If they get worse, you might need to take some time off. And you might need to see your doctor.
This discussion is all premised on the view that a strong immune system will make you less susceptible to colds. Jennifer Ackerman has suggested otherwise. Meanwhile, if you don’t shake my hand this winter, I won’t shake yours, okay?