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Cold Season Is Here; Should You Run Through It?

The common cold. It nails each and everyone of us sooner or later with all the classic symptoms: Raw, raspy throat, stuffy nose and an achy body. Some days it’s just tough to get out of bed.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that this year there will be more than 450 million cold and flu cases in the United States, resulting in billions of dollars in lost days of work and medical costs. On average, an American adult suffers two or three colds a year, while children have six or seven.

Brutal. And—natch—there’s no real cure for the common cold which is an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Runners are lucky. We generally have fewer colds than the average American for one simple reason: We’re outside and running so much which means we’re away from germs at least some of the time. But by no means are runners immune to the ravages of the common cold.

To run or not? When the inevitable happens and we come down with the cold, the big question we have is whether we should run or just stay inside and rest. Actually, the best advice is to run. Take it easier than normal (no hard, long runs), but going for an easy run, won’t hurt you, prolong the cold or make the symptoms worse—unless you have a fever. If you are running a temperature, don’t bother with even a short run as it can only put you in a deeper hole.

But if you have a cold, an easy run might be just what the doctor ordered as it can help alleviate some of the symptoms. Any type of exercise releases adrenaline which is a natural decongestant. This explains why many runners who have a cold find that an easy run seems to clear their breathing passages and gives them some relief.

Since there’s no known cure for the common cold, prevention is obviously the best way to go. But cold viruses and germs are everywhere during flu and cold season. The key is to maintain a strong immune system during the height of cold season and avoid germs as much as possible.

Here are some other ways:

  1. Wash your hands. Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do to prevent catching a common cold is to wash your hands often—especially during cold season. Picking up germs from another person and shaking hands (or touching someone else) is the main way colds get spread. Wash your hands after shaking hands with someone who may have a cold. Avoid anyone who is constantly sneezing and spreading plumes of germs.
  2. Don’t overtrain. Running a lot of miles or long runs—typically during marathon training—can temporarily depress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds or make you sicker if you already have one.
  3. Reduce long runs. A long run (or race) reduces your immune system for several hours afterward which gives viruses a chance to attack your system. With the 3M Half Marathon and Austin Marathon coming up, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your chances of running well by catching a cold.
  4. Hammer the sports drinks. Consuming drinks with carbs, protects the immune system better than if you’re dehydrated. Drink, drink, drink.
  5. Pound the vitamin C. Although most research has not conclusively proved than C can prevent colds, it can shorten the duration and minimize the severity.
  6. Stay off airplanes. Commercial airplanes have poor ventilation that just recirculates the air. It also recirculates viruses and germs. If you can avoid flying, do so.
  7. Get outside as much as possible. People who are stuck in an office all day are most vulnerable to colds, simply because they are around people who are passing cold germs. Whenever possible, take a break and go outside to get away from that environment.

By now we know that there isn’t a cure for the common cold, but you can treat a cold with over-the-counter cold remedies, drinking more fluids and getting extra rest which will reduce the length of the cold. Here’s four simple ways to do it:

  1. Chill out. If you feel really rotten, a day or two at home in bed will make you feel better.
  2. Zinc lozenges. These will help shorter the duration of the symptoms. So will echinacea.
  3. Sleep it off. Extra sleep will make you feel better. Take a nap.
  4. Have some chicken soup. Sure, it’ll help. Jewish mothers are right. It’s warm, tastes good and will keep you hydrated. Add a matzoh ball and you’ll be better in no time.