To work out or not to work out? A common question about the common cold
An important dilemma encountered by avid exercisers is whether they should workout when they are hit by the all too common cold. The answer lies both in the symptoms and the type of workout that is intended. We must listen to our bodies in order to make the right decisions and exercise in a way that does not worsen our condition.
Check your symptoms
Whether you can exercise very much depends on where your symptoms are. As a rule, it is considered OK to exercise when your symptoms are all ‘above the neck’, for instance having nasal congestion and watery eyes. However, you should refrain from exercise if you have any chronic health issues such as asthma, or if you experience any “below the neck” symptoms such as aches, fever, nausea and chest congestion to name a few.
If your symptoms are acceptable, exercising could help you feel better as it may open up your nasal passages, thereby relieving nasal congestion temporarily. However, you may risk more serious illness or injury if you decide to push through and exercise as usual when your symptoms are more serious. Therefore, it is worth considering the severity and nature of your symptoms before considering working out.
High vs. Low intensity exercise
The intensity of exercise is a factor you should absolutely consider if you are going to exercise while having a cold. This is because your immune system is already under strain when you have a cold, so you need to be careful about how much pressure you are adding on top of it. Vigorous and mild exercise affect the body differently, with heavy exercise potentially reducing immunity and the ability to fight illness.
You may have heard the myth that you can sweat out a cold and therefore be tempted to exert yourself with high intensity workouts. However, this is highly counter productive as sweating does not help getting rid of a cold and will not help you get better faster. Undertaking strenuous exercise may in fact do the opposite and further weaken your immune system. Therefore, it is recommended to stick to low-intensity workouts and postpone high-intensity exercise until at least a couple days after all your symptoms are gone.
Staying hydrated is also extremely important, so do not over-exert yourself and make sure you drink plenty of water.
Common courtesy would suggest that exercising at home would be preferable if you are unwell. However, if you are going to exercise in a public setting like the gym, following the appropriate hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette is essential prevent the spread of germs:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Wash your hands as regularly as possible
- Throw used tissues in the bin
- Use an alcohol-based sanitiser before and after exercising
- Wipe down any equipment you use
Additionally, consider sticking to solo exercise rather than group classes where possible.
Listen to your body
If you want to exercise and have the energy, exercising while having a cold is OK and could provide you with some temporary relief.
However, taking a few days off from exercise may sometimes be necessary, particularly if you feel too tired and physically exhausted. Listen to your body to determine whether resting might be a better idea.
Rest assured that taking some time out to recover from a cold is highly unlikely to derail your exercise goals, so do not beat yourself up about missing a few days.