async="src="/ Taking the Long Way Home: Can You Run When You're Sick?

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Can You Run When You're Sick?

Disclaimer: In my real life, I'm a nurse practitioner. As always, with any medical advice you read on the internet, it is always best to check with your personal medical provider. And just so you know, Dr Google is not your friend.

Influenza. Coronavirus. Norovirus. Rhinovirus. Enterovirus. 

If it seems like the whole world is sick, you might be right. Influenza activity remains high, with strains of type A and B still circulating. You can't turn on the news without hearing about Coronovirus and its imminent threat. Coronavirus is so widespread in Asia that the Tokyo Marathon announced it would be cancelling the race for everyone except elite runners and elite wheelchair athletes.

I guess elites are immune to Coronavirus? Not sure I understand that logic. Not sure I'd be traveling to Asia to run the Tokyo marathon right now. And now the Coronavirus is spreading through Europe, with an increasing number of cases in the US. It's enough to make you want to run away! 

If you've been lucky enough to escape illness this winter, count yourself in the minority. My clinic has been busy and I'm washing my hands like it's my job. I don't want to get sick and I'm sure you don't either. 

What if you do come down with something? Can you still run? Will you? How does an ailing runner know when it's ok to lace up? I've got some tips to help you decide if you should stay on the couch or if you can go.



The general rule of thumb when it comes to running or working out when you're sick is if your symptoms are from the neck up, you're probably ok to run. But if your symptoms are below the neck, you should take it easy. Obviously, if you feel sick enough to stay home from work, you shouldn't exert yourself. 

If you have the symptoms of a head cold--congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, and a sore throat--you're probably ok to go. When I have a cold, getting outside in the fresh air always makes me feel better. Running releases adrenaline, which can actually help to decrease congestion, at least temporarily. This isn't the time to push your pace, though! Running stresses the immune system and if your immune system is already fighting a virus that is causing your symptoms, you don't want to tax it even more.

Contrary to what your mother may have told you, cold weather, damp weather, or rainy or snowy weather do not make you sick. Germs make you sick and if you want to stay healthy, wash your hands. A lot. Keep your hands away from your face. Get a flu shot. It's not too late. Even though a flu shot is never a sure bet, this year's shot is about 55-60% effective. The patients I've been seeing with the flu who received the vaccine are generally not as sick as the ones who didn't.

If you have a fever, body aches, dizziness, and/or a wet, congested cough you should probably skip the run. Influenza is a virus that causes high fevers, body aches, and malaise. I've been seeing ton of flu this year and those patients are really sick. If you have the flu or flu-like symptoms, your best bet is to rest and let your body recover.


Same goes for any kind of gastrointestinal bug aka the 'stomach flu'. Personally, I can't imagine running with vomiting or diarrhea, but runners being runners, I suppose there are some who might just do that. It's NOT a good idea. If you feel well enough to run, at least take it to the treadmill so you'll have access to the bathroom. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated.

If you have a cold, be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Several studies have shown the benefits of chicken soup including reduction of mucus and a decrease in upper respiratory symptoms. Honey has been shown to be more effective for coughs than OTC cough medicines. Many people swear by elderberry syrup as a natural cold remedy, and while the evidence isn't strong, it may be helpful and it's certainly not risky. Vicks VapoRub is a go-to for a lot of people, and while my patients tell me they put it on their feet--don't ask, it makes no sense--I tell them to rub it on their chest. The vapors of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus can help you feel like you're breathing easier.

I'm not recommending any OTC medications because their effectiveness is dubious at best. If you have a product that works for you, then that's what you should take. My go-to is Sudafed, but that doesn't work for everyone.

Other helpful home remedies include saline spray for the nose, vaseline on a q-tip swirled in the nose (keeps the nasal mucosa moist), a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom, taking a steamy shower, a neti pot/saline nasal wash, and rest.

Rest is always a win, in my book. When you recover from your illness, take time to ease back into your workouts. Jumping right back in where you were can exacerbate the illness and cause you to feel worse again. It's hard for runners to take time off for illnesss or injury. Remind yourself that you're going to come back stronger and that few days off the road are not going cause a setback in your training.


Do you run when you're sick? What symptoms are deal breakers for you? What's your go-to remedy for a cold?


Do you run when you're sick? How do you know if you should stay or go? Check out my tips! /via @oldrunningmom#runchat #running #influenza 

I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics and with the Runners' Roundup: DebbieDeborahSmithaJenRachel, and Lisa.

 

50 comments :

  1. When I'm sick I typically don't feel like running, so I don't.
    I'm dealing with the petri dish that is GATech right now. So many bugs in college dorms. Add in inadequate sleep and food choices and ouch.

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    1. I'll run with a cold. Or at least I'll try. My body lets me know if it doesn't want to go on.

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  2. Running when sick is pretty black and white, if I'm just sniffly I run but if I'm fatigued/dizzy/whatever there's no way I'm getting off the couch let alone run. I wash my hands like a boss and take emergen-c everyday. Once I get sick, my go to is benadryl, it's not as drying as sudafed and it really helps when I have a cough.

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    1. Idk, it seems like a lot of people aren't sure whether to stay home or to go!

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  3. Okay so I'm not the only one that thinks it's silly that the marathon is still being held for Elite runners?? The logic is so flawed... Luckily (knock on wood) I usually just get one cold per Winter. One benefit to running, really exercise in general, is that I notice I don't get sick as often. Maybe all the exercise strengthened my immune system? But I also wash my hands like a crazy person lol.

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    1. Thank you for agreeing with me on the Tokyo Marathon. I wouldn't run it if I were an elite...unless I was wearing a biohazard suit.

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  4. Thankfully, I have stayed healthy so far (knock on wood!). I agree that I would not want to run w a stomach issue. Head cold I would as long as I would not spread it to a friend. Someone literally coughed in my face yesterday at the grocery store! Thanks in advance for linking up w us

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    1. I keep hoping that I don't get sick. I"m really pushing my luck this winter!

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  5. Last summer, I had the sapovirus (a variant of norovirus) and it was right in the middle of the Memorial-Day-to-Independence-Day running streak me and a bunch of other people in my running club were doing. I did it, but it was rough - about a week of one-mile-only days and that mile was slow and dicey. I totally jinxed myself though: before the streak started I told the others, "you can do a mile a day... even if you're sick, that's nothing. Unless you have a stomach flu!" Very funny, universe.

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    1. Oh, now I'm off to read up on the sapovirus! Sounds awful, if it's related to norovirus. I had that once and I never want it again.

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  6. I didn't know about that 'from the neck up' rule! Makes perfect sense.
    Good reminder to wash my hands more often (and thoroughly and to keep my hands OUT OF MY face! So important!

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    1. It doesn't take much more than a few pieces of virus to make you sick!

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  7. I've been sick twice this winter, both times with a very sore throat and fever. Lots of time on the couch and telling myself, "running will be there when you're better." Since I don't have a treadmill, I eased my way back by getting on the bike trainer (Global Cycling Network has the best training videos!) I think the hardest part is when you're almost over the sickness, you feel so much better than you had that you feel like you can conquer the world. 30 minutes later it's back to bed!

    I don't have a go to medicine, but I can't drink coffee when I'm sick. It just doesn't taste right. Tea with honey is perfect and I didn't even know it was good for coughs.

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    1. i used GCN for training when I was dealing with PF during Big Sur Marathon training. Good stuff--although there was one creepy instructor who wore his jersey unzipped to his navel and kept making comments like, "oh yeah' and 'that's it"...felt a little icky.

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  8. I haven't been sick since last May, and of course that one was a doozy. I know that early to mid spring tends to be when I come down with something.

    I usually won't run with a cold, although I don't tend to get them, I get flu like symptoms (but not the flu).I couldn't tell you the last time I had a cold (knock on wood). However, if I do get a cold, it usually means I'm extremely run down & that's why I don't run.

    Can't do things like Nyquil or Sudafed, they make me wired instead of helping me sleep. Since I tend to run a fever when I do get sick, I only take ibuprofen (or acetaminophen) at night. I figure a fever is your body's way of protecting itself, but at night I need to sleep to recover. What can I say, works for me!

    Big, big tea drinker & also swear by matzo ball soup when I'm really sleep. I always keep a couple of cans around just in case. :)

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    1. You better be knocking on wood after putting it out there in the universe like that!

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  9. I've run with a cold but that whole breathing thing got difficult so usually I don't run; I try to not go to the gym either because one sick person can spread a whole lotta germs during a workout and I don't want to be THAT person!

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    1. I've thought about that when I'm at CrossFit. I wash my hands several times after a class!

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  10. Thankfully, I have not been sick in a long time, at least through the winters.I believe it's not only all the fitness stuff I do, but being outside for most of those runs. The worst, though, is having a messy nose while trying to breathe at a fast pace LOL I still haven't mastered the snot rocket...and I'm alraight with that.

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    1. Ewww..the snot rocket. I can't bring myself to even consider it!

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  11. If I'm sick I tend to go by how I'm feeling, but the majority of the time I'll skip the run in favor of cross-training. Fingers-crossed that so far this winter I've dodged the flu and other stuff.

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    1. I keep seeing the flu in my office, so I don't think we're done yet! I swear, every time my nose starts dripping, I think that I'm getting sick. Fingers crossed it doesn't happen.

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  12. I do always feel better after I go for a short run when I have a head cold!

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  13. I have to be pretty sick to let it interrupt a workout. I actually think getting a good workout in helps me get better faster. I would have traveled to Tokyo if the marathon wasn't canceled, but of course my husband and I have made a living out of protecting ourselves from sick people for almost 40 years! We were supposed to fly this morning. Instead, we are heading to Vegas tomorrow! We probably have as much of a chance of catching something there - of course likely not the coronavirus. Hopefully it won't affect the Olympics.

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  14. My Mama was a wise woman. She always told me that you don't get sick from the cold! You're more likely to get sick from being indoors with other people who are sick!

    One of the things I've learned as I've gotten older is to not worry about pushing through illness to run. If I'm sick I'll let my body decide if I'm okay to run. A little cold, a run makes me feel better. Anything worse, I'll usually take a day (or two) off.

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    1. Your mom was a wise woman! I still can't believe how many of the moms I see in my clinic still believe that! I get requests to write notes for kids to stay inside during the winter. Um, no!

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  15. Like you, I feel better going out for a run if it's something head related, like allergies. I will skip if it's a migraine or GI issues. I will stay out of the gym if I think I'm contagious, because sharing is not caring.

    Vitamin C is our go to. The boys have a sinugator (a battery power saline flush device) that our pediatrician recommended - they use it for allergies and sinus gunk and it's been helpful. Hand washing and fresh air are also plusses in my book.

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    1. I have never heard of that sinugator but I am going to Google it as we speak! My patients would be all over it!

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  16. I feel so bad for the runners who won the Tokyo Marathon lottery. I think it's difficult to get into. I know they can re-register next year but still...
    I agree with you. If I have a head cold, I usually still run. Anything else and I give running a rest. Unfortunately, I learned that lesson the hard way. :(

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    1. I feel so badly for those runners. They have to pay again if they want to run next year. It's just a bad deal all around.

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  17. I've had a cold and a flu this winter, and both times I rested until I felt better. If it's simple congestion, I will still run, but a fever, cough, body aches, anything like that, and I rest. I always get back to running sooner if I rest rather than try to force a run, feel worse, take more days off, etc.
    I use nasal saline for congestion/mild colds. Our pediatrician had us giving it to our daughter when she had a cold, so I tried it. I get why she cries now, but it really does help. Hot honey lemon water is my go-to for a sore throat - my mom always made that for me.

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  18. I used to push myself to run through colds but now that I have a little one to take care of I don't take any chances and I try to get all the rest I can. Knock on wood I haven't had anything too serious this year. I'm so grateful that Grayson isn't in daycare yet because if he was I bet we would all be sick very often!

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  19. Gosh darn viruses everywhere. My hands are raw from washing them so much. I hate winter!!!!! And let's just hope this coronavirus nonsense either goes away for good or at least gives us a respite during the warm months.

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    1. Oh my hands too! If I see 20 patients in a day, that means I'm washing my hands at least 50 times. Pretty sure it's more than that.

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  20. Thanks for the great info, Wendy! I've always adhered to the adage that "you can exercise if you're sick from the neck up, but not if you're sick from the neck down." I'm glad to hear you confirm that it's a good rule to follow.

    So far (knock on wood), I've only gotten a cold this winter. I got my flu shot in the fall; and my first shingles shot before Christmas and my second shingles shot today. Boy is my arm sore tonight!

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    1. I had a bad reaction to the shingles shot--my rheum says that I don't need the second one. Ok, my first benefit from having an autoimmune disease!

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  21. I had the strangest symptoms last week, well ONE symptom - a sore throat. No other symptoms. At first I thought I must be coming down with a cold and I was stressing because I had a Half to do on Sunday. The sore throat got worse but started feeling like an obstruction/ulcer... can't quite explain it. But because I felt super healthy I kept running, had a great race. It disappeared just as fast as it came yesterday (Wednesday). So weird but glad I kept running. I also follow the rule of thumb that if it's below the neck I don't run. Great post by the way!

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    1. I'm so glad your sore throat didn't affect your race and that it's gone. Maybe you were coming down with something but it went away! Gotta love that.

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  22. We've had some pretty sick people at work (patients and staff) with Flu this year. I've been lucky so far (fingers crossed). My daughter was just telling me about the Vicks on the bottom of your feet thing (eye roll), but hay if you think it works for you (and keeps you out of my ED) then go for it. ;-)

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  23. I'm fortunate, I don't get colds (really), I've never had the flu (honestly)--but I do get stomach bugs. Those slay me every time. My husband's office had a nasty strain running through them all. He never got it but carried it home to me. Man I was so sick.

    So yeah if I get sick, it's stomach and I'm not running then.

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  24. I got sick at the beginning of the year and I stayed home to rest. I felt so tired and didn't want to run. I swear by Vicks VapoRub too. I have a container at home and in my purse. :-)

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    1. I use a Vicks nasal inhaler thing that really helps open up my sinuses!

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  25. The way I understand Tokyo is that some need it for an Olympic qualification, so it wouldn't be right to say they can't. They're not being mandated to do it.
    For me I listen to my body. I'll generally run with a cold if I don't feel too run down, but not one of thos "must run" runners - if I can't, I can't

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    1. Well, that makes more sense, about Tokyo. I didn't think they were being mandated though, but it just seemed odd to have a race just for elites.

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