Getting into a good, steady exercise routine feels great and it’s so frustrating when life gets in the way – especially when it’s in the form of an unwanted cold or flu. When you get sick after you’ve come so far to get into a regular schedule, it’s natural to wonder – “Is it still ok for me to get my cardio in today?” “Will exercising make me feel worse? Or will it help me kick this cold”. We’ve wondered the same things, so we asked our experts and did our research to get you the answers you’ve been looking for.
In short – the consensus is to use your judgement, evaluate your level of illness and decide accordingly.
If your sickness is simply a common cold, it should be okay to work out, as long as you listen to your body. In regards to whether or not to work out when you’re sick, fitness trainer Anthony Moscardelli explains “It’s not so cut and dry. It’s almost like saying, should you stop exercising if you are injured? The old school of thought is to work around your injuries. The same thing holds true for being sick. If you are “deathly ill”, then obviously you shouldn’t exercise. If you simply have a common cold that is entirely different. Most people with a common cold may feel a bit weaker and should curtail their workouts according to how they feel. I would not suggest to just stop working out all together, as some colds or sinus infections could take 3-5 weeks to get rid of entirely.”
With this information in mind, there are a few things to be cautious of.
- Physical activity increases your heart rate, which some cold medicines can cause also. This combination can cause you heart to pump very hard, and lead to a shortness of breath. If you start to experience this, slow down or stop.
- If your cold comes along with a fever, exercising can stress your body even more – so hold off for a few days.
- Decrease your intensity. If you work out too hard when you have a cold, it can cause you to feel worse and can even slow down your recovery – so cut it back a little.
Richard Besser, MD says to use the neck rule”: If your symptoms are above the neck – sneezing, sinus pressure, stuffy nose – then breaking a sweat is generally considered safe. The American College on Exercise recommends holding off completely if you are experiencing flu-like or below-the-neck symptoms like nausea or vomiting.
So – if you’re symptoms are above the neck and you’re feeling up to sweating out some of those germs, here are the best workouts to embrace and the ones you should completely avoid.
Just Do It
- Walking: If you want to get moving but don’t have a ton of energy, something is better than nothing. Even a 20 minute walk can help you reap the benefits of regular exercise, and as a bonus can help your symptoms. “If your sinuses are plugged up, walking will stimulate you to take deep breaths and can help open up those passages,” says Besser.
- Jogging: If it is part of your regular routine. Running is a natural decongestant – just remember to scale back the intensity.
- Yoga: Research suggests that stress relieving techniques like breathing exercises and yoga may help boost immunity. A Swedish study also found that humming is a good way to open clogged sinus passages
- Dance: This is a low impact alternative that allows you to break a sweat without putting too much stress on your body.
Don’t Do It
- Endurance Running: If you’re in the middle of training for an upcoming distance run or marathon – put it on the back burner, even if you are just starting to feel better or are just coming down with a cold. Andrea Hulse, DO, explains “In general, regular exercise stimulates the immune system and helps keep us healthy,” says Hulse. “But too much regular exercise at a high intensity can have the opposite effect,” she adds. Immune function may be compromised for up to 24 hours after prolonged, continuous exercise (1.5 hours or longer)
- Lifting Weights: Your strength and performance will likely be diminished while you’re battling a cold, says Besser—especially if you’ve missed out on quality sleep—putting you at increased risk for injury while trying to lift heavy equipment. Plus, the muscle strain required to lift weights can cause sinus pressure and headaches to feel even worse, he adds.
- Team Sports: Plain and simple – nobody else wants what you have!
So the last question out there is – “When is it ok to resume your regular exercise routine after you’ve recovered?” Raul Seballos, M.D., vice-chair of the department of preventive medicine at the Cleveland Clinic says, “Listen to your body. Colds typically last for a week to 10 days but it may take you two to three weeks to recover from the flu, depending on the severity. Don’t go 100 percent the first three or four days. Start at 75 percent of your normal workout (for both cardio and weights) and increase gradually for the first week or so. If you try to go back too soon you may have a prolonged recovery phase. You may also be more short of breath if you’re recovering from an upper respiratory infection.”
*You should always consult your doctor for a confirmed medical opinion. The content in this article was developed through online research and discussions with local fitness trainers.