Do you “Starve a cold, Feed a fever”, vice versa, or neither? I’m a big believer in trying to increase fluids to help rid an ailing body of virus germs. Aside from that, I usually push through any incidental cold or sniffles and carry on with my usual plans.

Many of my aerobics class participants have inquired, through the years, if I think they should work out if they have had a cold or cough recently. Rather than presume that everyone in the world subscribes to my stubborn work/exercise ethic, I decided to seek a more professional and somewhat more generic answer.

From The Top…

As it turns out, the Mayo Clinic has some definitive thoughts on this topic. Experts there tell us that engaging in moderate physical activity is usually acceptable if you have a garden-variety cold and no fever. Exercise may even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion.

A good rule of thumb is the “Above The Neck Check”. Exercise is generally fine if all of your symptoms are “above the neck”, such as those that typically accompany a common cold: runny nose, nasal congestion, intermittent sneezing or minor sore throat. It may be wise to somewhat reduce the intensity and length of your workout, substituting a walk in place of a run, for example.

…To The Bottom

On the other hand, exercise is stringently contraindicated if you are experiencing symptoms occurring “below the neck”: chest congestion, hacking cough, upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting or widespread muscle aches. These can be indicators of something more serious than the common cold or allergy, and should best be treated with rest and/or a call to your doctor.

Trust Your Body

As always, let your body be your guide. If you truly feel miserable, taking it easy for a few days will not set you back terribly in terms of optimal performance. If, however, what you are experiencing is more annoyance than illness, you can probably exercise safely and with confidence! Just be generous with the antibacterial soap!

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Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!