You have spent the last nine months training religiously for your first triathlon, logging considerable
hours on your bike, in the pool and in your running shoes. Your workout this morning is supposed to be a fairly intense 40-mile bike ride up and down some pretty hilly terrain, but you wake up with an irritating cough and a scratchy throat. What should you do? Take the day off for fear that an intense workout might make your symptoms worse? Follow the adage “no pain no gain” and grab a protein shake for breakfast and a couple of packets of GU and your camel pack and hit the road? Substitute a light swim for the bike ride and attack the hills when your cough and scratchy throat are  gone?

This question of whether to exercise when feeling sick is a common one. Generally, fitness and medical professionals say it is OK to exercise when you are feeling a bit under the weather if your symptoms are at the level of your neck or above. So, for example, if you are experiencing a mild headache, runny nose, minor sore throat, sneezing, coughing or sinus congestion, you’re probably OK to continue your workouts.

On the other hand, if your symptoms are below your neck or more systemic in nature such as body aches, chills, chest congestion, diarrhea or an upset stomach, you would probably be wise to take some time  off.

It is also wise to refrain from exercise if you have a fever, as you can risk increasing your body temperature even more. Dr. Edward Laskowski, in an article at www.mayoclinic.com, states that mild-to-moderate physical activity is usually OK if you have a garden-variety cold and no fever.

Another thing you can do when you wake up with the sniffles on a scheduled workout day is simply ratchet down the intensity a bit. If you were planning on going for a run, take a nice relaxing walk instead. If you were headed to a spinning class at your gym, try sneaking into a yoga class, and don’t push yourself too hard. Or maybe just go float around in the pool for 20–30 minutes with your kids.

It is important to listen to your body. If you do decide to work out when you’re feeling a bit ill, and 5–10 minutes into it you start to feel really tired or light headed, stop, head home and consider having some chicken noodle soup. (See my first book 25 Ways to Cure the Hiccups: Uncovering the Truth Behind 101 Common Myths and Misconceptions to see if chicken noodle soup is helpful in treating the common  cold.)

And remember to use proper gym etiquette when you are battling a cold and decide to work out at a fitness center. Carry a towel with you to place on the equipment you are using. When you move to another exercise station, be sure to wipe down everything you touched. Finally, if you can’t stop sneezing or coughing when you’re in the gym, head outside for a walk. Your workout friends will appreciate it!

Laskowski, E. Exercise and illness: Workout with a cold? www.mayoclinic.com/health/ exercise/AN01097/. Website accessed June 24, 2012.