How do I avoid catching a cold while running?
Patricia Storey, Bath
As winter approaches, your chances of catching a cold rise. Although a cold is a relatively minor illness, it can interfere with your training and eventually lead to bigger problems.
Anna Whittaker, professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Birmingham, says: “A cold is caused by a virus that enters and replicates within the upper respiratory tract, resulting in the symptoms we all know – runny nose, coughing, sneezing, itchy throat, bunged up nose and sinuses.
“It’s difficult to completely avoid catching one as they’re spread through airborne droplets. However, if you do become infected through contact with another person who has a cold, this doesn’t mean the infection will turn into what we call the clinical disease. You can become infected, but your body could fight it off so you don’t get ill. This is more typical in individuals who are healthier to begin with so have a stronger immune system. In other words, those who have a healthy diet, are physically active, not too stressed, get enough sleep, and don’t smoke, take drugs or drink too much alcohol.
“However, if you’re performing extremely vigorous or endurance exercise such as a marathon, the physical stress this takes on the body actually opens up your body to a greater risk of contracting an infection such as a cold. If this is the training you engage in, then you need to be extra careful during these periods to try to minimise infection through getting adequate sleep and healthy nutrition, and reducing stress levels as much as you can.”