Should I Work Out If I Have a Cold?
The doldrums of winter are upon us. Not only is it cold outside, but many of us are suffering from upper respiratory infections- or, to put it in lay terms, colds. The golden opportunity to start shedding pounds with your new 2009 work out routine could be shattered by a cold virus - Or, maybe not.
January and February are prime months for many different types of upper respiratory infections to be circulating. Moreover, it is also flu season. Many wonder whether it is safe to exercise while under the grip of an upper respiratory infection. That all depends on what types of symptoms you have, how you feel, and what type of workout is planned.
A general rule of thumb is that if you have a lot of what are called “constitutional symptoms” and/or chest symptoms, you should probably forego the workout. Symptoms like fever, chills, body aches and fatigue are evidence that your body is working hard to fight an invader. You’ll need your energy to combat the virus. Hold off on working out. Also, with those types of symptoms, you probably won’t feel like working out anyway. That will make the decision easier. Likewise, if you have a cough for more than a week to 10 days, you are bringing up green or yellow phlegm, or, are wheezing, working out is not in the cards. Get as much rest as you can and drink plenty of fluids. . If your bout with the winter illness includes gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, you run the risk of being dehydrated. Skip the workout for sure. Wait at least 48 hours after you are able to hold down fluids before thinking about exercising. If you’re really feeling under the weather, see your doctor
On the other hand, sniffles, runny nose, and head congestion, (i.e. symptoms that are above the neck) generally shouldn’t prevent you from exercising. However, a note of caution is in order. It is probably inadvisable to work out at more than 60%-75% capacity when you do have a cold. Stressing your body to the limit may not be a good idea. I’ve heard some strange urban legends in my twelve or so years of practice. One of which is to “sweat out your cold”. I’m not sure what is meant by that saying. What I do know, is that it makes very little medical sense.
Also, if you’re planning a trip to the gym, be careful about taking over- the- counter cold remedies. Many of these medicines can speed your heart rate and increase your blood pressure. You won’t want to double the burden on your cardiovascular system by both exercising and taking over- the- counter cold remedies. As a matter of fact, I’m not a fan of over- the- counter cold remedies at all- work out or no work out.
Like so many other things, use your common sense. If you don’t feel well enough to work out, skip it. The gym isn’t going anywhere. If you must work out, and you are suffering from a viral illness, pay attention to your symptoms. If your whole body is feeling achy, run down and fatigued, consider that your work out. If your symptoms are predominantly above your neck, give it a shot- but only work out a little more intensely than half capacity. If you have a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms, forget it. There is a strong likelihood you may be slightly to moderately dehydrated. Also, avoid mixing over- the- counter cold remedies and working out. If you’re not sure what to do, see your primary care provider for more advice.
Jeffrey Heit is an internist in Burlington, Massachusetts and is affiliated with Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Obesity.