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Dedicated runners often try to maintain their running schedules regardless of the weather or other obstacles that life may send their way. Running while you're sick isn't always a good idea, however, and you may wonder whether you can still run with a chest cold. It won't cause problems to run when suffering from certain types of illness, but some illnesses can worsen if you try to exercise while you're sick.
Though you might not think that a chest cold is something to be concerned about, what most people call a "chest cold" is actually a condition known as acute bronchitis. The bronchial tubes that connect the lungs to the airway become inflamed, reducing airflow and producing the discomfort that you feel in your chest. The mucus membranes of the bronchi begin producing additional mucus in an attempt to soothe the inflammation, further restricting airflow and causing you to begin coughing. Depending on the severity of the bronchial infection, a low-grade fever, fatigue, body aches and headaches may accompany the tightness in your chest and coughing that are caused by the infection. If you aren't sure how severe your chest cold symptoms are or if they persist for more than a few days, consult a doctor for additional diagnosis.
The Neck Test
When trying to determine whether you can run or perform other exercises while you're sick, doctors and trainers sometimes recommend that you perform the neck test. Consider where your symptoms are located; if they are above the neck, you may still be able to exercise, but if they are below the neck, you should avoid exercise until the infection is gone. Since the majority of symptoms associated with a chest cold are located below the neck, it fails the neck test and you shouldn't run.
Exercise and Illness
You should be careful when exercising while sick even if your symptoms pass the neck test. Any illness can increase your chances of suffering from dehydration and a loss of balance, which could result in falls or other injuries. Reduce the intensity of your runs and other exercise until your symptoms go away. If you have a chest cold or other respiratory infection, however, the potential complications can be more severe. Upper-respiratory infections such as acute bronchitis can negatively affect pulmonary, cardiac and skeletal muscles, and increasing breathing rates and heart rates by running or performing other intense exercise during an infection can increase the rate at which these complications occur.
Don't resume your regular running schedule until you are sure that you have recovered fully from your bronchial infection. When you do resume running, begin gradually, allowing your body to get used to the activity again after your illness. Don't attempt to resume running at the same distance and pace you used before you became sick, as lingering chest congestion or pulmonary weakness could lead to relapse or other complications. Start slower and run for a shorter distance, then increase both the distance and pace over the course of your next several runs until you've returned to normal.