When you find yourself feeling under the weather, the struggle between hitting the gym or hitting the snooze button for more rest is very real.
If you are feeling less than your best, but still want to power through, try cutting back on your effort. This is what Vikas Patel, a sports health physician at the Cleveland Clinic, suggests to patients. Do one or two sets instead of five. Or try a low-impact activity like yoga. And remember to focus on hydration anytime you aren’t feeling well. He says that most people who work out and then feel like it prolonged their sickness are most likely feeling the effects of dehydration, so it’s important to increase fluid intake.
Working out may also provide some temporary relief from your stuffy nose. When your blood starts pumping, your adrenaline levels increase. Adrenaline causes constriction of the nasal membranes so that the air passages open up, while the increase in circulation clears sinus pressure and allows for easier breathing.
According to David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, the immune system needs activity to do its job better. He says that every time we exercise, we increase the circulation of important immune cells. But he also advises that it’s not always effective therapy—research has determined that exercise has no effect on the duration or severity of the common cold. “If your symptoms are neck up,” says Nieman, “Things like sinus and nasal congestion or a sore throat - exercise neither helps nor hurts.”
So, it seems, if you feel like getting up and moving around might help energize you when you’re feeling lousy, give it a go. Especially when most of your symptoms are above the neck. But if you’ve got heavy chest congestion and a hacking cough or muscle aches, fever, fatigue or upset stomach, you’re better off sleeping instead of sweating.
FYI: Want to protect yourself from colds and flu? Regular exercise is a proven immunity-booster. Studies show that moderate, consistent aerobic exercise (30 to 45 minutes a day) can reduce your risk for respiratory infections and other common illnesses by more than 50%.