How to Outrun Winter Colds

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Gesundheit! Now's the time when everyone seems to be coughing and sneezing. The common cold strikes most adults two to four times a year, each bout lasting between five and 14 days. But can you run with a scratchy throat and runny nose? Here's a guide to help you prevent, survive and recover from your next cold.

You're not  sick yet...

But everyone around you is

Get eight hours of sleep
Growth hormones that boost immunity are released during sleep, says personal trainer Nick Anderson (runningwithus.com). Scientists monitored people's sleeping habits for two weeks, then exposed them to a cold virus. Those who clocked less than seven hours were three times more likely to get sick than those who slept for at least eight hours.

Drink on the run
That healthy boost from exercise drops when you run for longer than 90 minutes at a time because of a surge in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Sip a sports drink during high-intensity workouts: "The sugar helps maintain blood glucose, lowering stress hormone response and preventing immune system damage," says 58-time marathoner Dr David Nieman, researcher at the Appalachian State University, US.

Keep to yourself

Cold sufferers can spread germs before they know they're sick. Limit germ exposure (more waving, less handshaking) and, if weather allows, exercise outside instead of indoors. "At a gym, you could breathe in air that has viruses in it, and touch machines that infected people may have used," Anderson says.

Clean up
Wash your hands for at least  20 seconds with soap and warm water throughout the day, and don't put your hands on your face. "This helps keep the virulent germs away from your eyes, nose and mouth, where they can quickly infect you," Nieman says.

You wake up with symptoms

A sniffle or a scratchy throat means a cold is imminent.

Don't skip your run

"Exercise temporarily reduces congestion symptoms," says Dr Thomas Weidner, director of the Athletic Training Education Program at Ball State University in Indiana, US. In his studies, feeling under the weather didn't have an impact on running performance. Plus, a workout won't worsen your symptoms, Weidner says.

Tend to your nose

It's annoying to exercise with a nose that's running as fast as your feet. Using a nasal wash (available from pharmacies) before a run can provide relief from congestion, as can over-the-counter nasal sprays and oral decongestants.

You have a full-blown cold

Your nose is very stuffy and you're coughing so much that you haven't been able to get a good night's rest.

Back off
Swap all tough workouts for moderate activity, like a 30-minute slow jog. You may want to exercise inside; cold air can irritate a sensitive throat and nose. And if you have a fever or symptoms below the neck (gastrointestinal problems, body aches or joint soreness), don't work out. "Running with a fever can make the illness worse and there's a risk of passing the virus to the heart," Nieman says.

Sip hot liquids
A study found that people who drank hot beverages rated cold symptoms as less severe than those who had room-temperature drinks. Because tests showed nasal air flow did not improve in the hot liquid group, experts suspect the relief came from the psychologically soothing effects of a warm drink.