Cold and flu season is in full-swing and it begs the question: should you be exercise with a cold? The verdict is out, and the answer is… it depends. While research shows those of us who are sedentary are more at-risk of infections, those of us who engage in high-intensity exercise aren’t exactly off the hook. In fact, high intensity exercise puts us at a higher risk of developing an infection since it suppresses our immune system, making us especially susceptible during cold and flu season.
It seems as though there’s a goldilocks effect that helps to both prevent cold and flus while also helping us to bounce back from an infection if we do succumb to one. Research shows that regular, moderate exercise seems to stimulate the immune system just enough to fight off the infection and keep us healthy and may even help us to bounce back quicker if we do get sick.
So, what happens if you do fall victim? Consider the “neck rule,” which suggests that if your symptoms are above the neck (think sinus congestion, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing), you may be fine to continue low- to moderate-intensity exercise provided your energy allows for you to. Moderate running or exercising on an elliptical are great for breaking up sinus congestion but be sure to drink plenty of water throughout your workout. Yoga is another great exercise that helps to boost the immune system helping to ward off the infection, while decreasing overall inflammation that may contribute to aches and pains. If you’re an avid high intensity exercise enthusiast or athlete, dial down your workout to include some of these lower intensity types of exercise. Weightlifting can increase sinus pressure, which will make headaches and sinus congestion symptoms feel a lot worse. This may be the perfect time to try something new!
Keep in mind that if you choose to engage in exercise, especially in a group fitness class or public setting (like a gym) that your symptoms may be contagious—or even worsen if you pick up another bug! Be sure to practice proper hand washing before and after your workout, wipe down equipment before and after use, and don’t forget to cover up your coughs and sneezes.
If your symptoms are “below the neck,” you may want to reschedule your workout for when your symptoms improve. Symptoms below the neck may include body aches, chest congestion or tightness, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, shortness of breath, and fever. These suggest a more serious type of infection, and your body will require all of its energy and immune capacity to ward off this type of infection. Consider this a message from your body to take a rest day or two, since exercising with these symptoms could result in serious complications or side effects. It may also be a good time to see your doctor and get checked out.
If you hope to avoid cold and flu season this year, consider hitting the gym if you’re currently sedentary, or dialing down the workouts if you’re currently engaging in intense exercise. This moderate-type of physical activity is most helpful at preventing infection. Other ways to prevent yourself from catching cold and flu are adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, a good quality whole foods diet, and proper hydration. Include vitamin C-rich foods like bell peppers, oranges, and strawberries, and vitamin A-rich food like sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash. These two nutrients help to stimulate the immune system so that it is prepared to fight off those nasty cold and flu bugs if and when they hit.
Want other tips and info? Head to @reflexsupplements on Instagram and let us know in the comments what you’d like us to write about. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how you’re preventing the cold and flu or how you’re adjusting your workouts if you caught a bug. Tag us in your posts with the hashtag #reflexnation on social media. We love hearing from you!
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