Worried about cold or flu impacting your exercise regimen? It can be frustrating when you’re feeling under the weather and don’t have the energy to work out.
Should you rest or tough it out? Is it safe to exercise? Here are some tips and tricks for safe and healthy exercise during cold and flu season.
Can exercise protect me from a cold or flu – or make me more susceptible?
Although people who exercise regularly generally get sick less often, sometimes too much of a good thing can be harmful. Some studies show that intense exercise—like a two-hour run or grueling gym workout—may make you more vulnerable to viruses because after vigorous exercise, your immune system becomes stressed and weaker for a short period of time.
- Be extra-careful to avoid germs during this time.
- Get plenty of rest between workouts.
- Nourish and refuel your body with food and liquids before and after every workout to help your body recover.
If I’m sick, when should I take a break from exercise?
It’s important to listen to your body. If you have a cold but your symptoms aren’t too severe (i.e., runny nose or sneezing), it’s usually fine to stick with your fitness routine. Try not to overdo the workout, though—it may worsen your symptoms and in some cases lengthen the illness. If you’re feeling less than 100 percent, stick to light-to-moderate exercise (e.g., walking) until you start feeling better.
But if your cold is accompanied by a fever, chest congestion (making it hard to breathe) or flu-like symptoms, it’s best to sit out your workout for a few days and rest until you’re feeling reenergized and won’t risk spreading germs at the gym.
How can I avoid getting sick?
The gym is where we go to improve our health and fitness. But what about the risk of germs? There’s no avoiding it, cold & flu season is upon us. When clients are informed and the management is proactive, the risk of getting germs at the gym can be reduced. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cold and flu season peaks between December & March. Don’t skip your workout! Instead, practice these tips of staying healthy at the gym and everywhere you go.
Avoid the cold & flu with these tips:
- Wash Your Hands- We all know the importance of washing our hands. Not just a quick rinse, but a thorough scrub! A good practice is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song 2x while washing your hands. Scrubbing and rubbing the whole time. Protect others by washing your hands before you workout to reduce the spread of germs. Protect yourself by washing your hands immediately after your workout, especially if you don’t have time to shower. Always dry your hands thoroughly. If you’re really in a rush invest in a small bottle of hand sanitizer, but washing your hands is the best prevention!
- Cover Your Cough- A cough can send cold and flu germs almost 20 feet through the air! Sneezes are even more powerful sending germs over 25 feet through the air. Be courteous to other gym goers and cover your cough and/ or sneeze. If you feel a coughing fit coming on during your group fitness class be respectful and exit the studio until you’re ready to return.
- Healthy Diet- Food alone can’t protect against the common cold or flu, and the science isn’t yet clear on which nutrients may bolster immunity to reduce your risk of getting sick. But experts agree that a diet rich in a variety of produce, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products―along with adequate sleep, moderate exercise, and minimal stress―contributes to a well-functioning immune system and may promote a faster recovery if you do come down with a cold or flu.
- Staying hydrated- This allow your body circulate blood more freely, allowing flu-and-cold-fighting white blood cells better fight off viruses. The common recommendation is eight glasses of water a day. In cold and flu season I up my water intake to at least 10 glasses a day – interspersed with an occasional green juice that is packed with lots of healthy veg. Doctors will tell you, drinking more fluids may boost immune system function, helping you fight off illness.
- Sleep- If you’re looking to avoid the cold or the flu this fall, make time for sleep! Sleep deprivation has an adverse effect on immune function, and chronic sleep loss can increase an individual’s vulnerability to infectious diseases.
- Exercise- Regular exercise is known to boost the immune system. According to multiple studies working out with “moderate intensity” may cut down the number of colds you get. For example, the American Journal of Medicine found women who walked for a half-hour every day for a year experienced half the number of colds as women who didn’t exercise. Why? Increased number of white blood cells.
Just like you don’t want to pick up any germs at the gym, people don’t want to catch them from you either! Sometimes it’s inevitable, but stay home when you are sick.
So, during this winter season, remember to stay hydrated, eat healthy and continue to exercise, which will help boost your immune system in the long run. If you ever have questions about your illness or are wondering if you should continue to exercise, don’t hesitate to ask your exercise specialist.