Should You Exercise With a Cold?

As much as this post is for you, it’s been pretty eye opening for myself as well.

I can count on 2 fingers how many times I have had a cold in the last 4 years and the one that took me out last week is included.

Like a lot of people, I do not sit still for extended periods of time well making me an awful patient and not very good at recovery from anything. I had been over training, not sleeping enough, stressed, and with school back in session I managed to catch the first wave of this years nasty cold.

It reared it’s ugly head in so many different ways, waking up every day with a new symptom I was completely couch ridden for 4 straight days and now, 8 days later I am still struggling with sinus congestion.

Never in my life have I been sent home from work for being sick, until I tried coaching a class with no voice and a fever which quickly landed me back in my living room on the couch under a mountain of blankets.

In a gym setting, as much as you don’t want to show up and work with a sick trainer, a trainer doesn’t want to work with sick clients. Not to mention, even light exercise can worsen and prolong the recovery for any illness. You don’t just run the risk of spreading the virus, you could potentially make yourself more sick by pushing it.

Trying to understand the reasons why and how exercise effects a cold, I decided to do a little research to share with you all!

Cold Prevention and Exercise

First off, exercise is an awesome preventative measure for seasonal colds and flus. Keeping your body and immune system strong year-round. Exercise, properly fueling, while getting adequate rest and sleep is a recipe for success in avoiding seasonal ailments.

While I am normally spot on in those areas, I was caught unprepared and stretched thin which lowered my bodies defense mechanisms and set me up as the perfect host for any virus. The day before I woke up in sick-land, I had slept little and still got a hard workout in which sealed my fate. Recent studies have shown that even in the healthiest of people immunoglobulins (immune system line of defense) are largely lowered after intense exercise, depressing the strength of your immune system.

Exercise & White Blood Cells

Intense workouts require more recovery even in a healthy body. After a hard workout  you can have a decreased number of available white blood cells which can be a problem. As soon as a cold virus finds its way into your system and attaches in your nose or throat your body needs those white blood cells as its first line of defense to fight it off. Unless you have had the exact virus before, which is highly unlikely as there are thousands of strains, this failed attack on the virus will result in the second line of defense via the first round of cold symptoms. In other words, no fun.

Stress Hormones

It’s pretty widely accepted that increased stress levels and chronic stress can lower immune strength and increase your chance of coming down with the common cold. Similarly, intense exercise is perceived as stress on the body since it forces it out of it’s normal comfortable activity levels. More specifically the hormone cortisol, released from the adrenal gland in response to external stressors is lowered which can effect immune system cells during infection and recovery.

So When is Exercise OK?

First and foremost, listen to your body. If you’re like me and feel worse when not exercising, trying to push too hard when your body is already working to fight a virus could make the whole recovery process worse and/or longer.

Remember, you feel tired when your sick because your body is using its stored energy to fight an infection. If you decide to hit the gym and expend a bunch of energy, then require additional energy for muscle recovery, that infection is not getting fought to your bodies fullest ability. You run the risk of feeling ever more drained than you did before while lowering your internal defense mechanisms.

I would highly suggest avoiding intense exercise during the peak of any cold or flu symptoms. If one of those symptoms is a fever, you should wait at least 24 hours after any those symptoms have gone away before engaging in even moderate exercise.

With so many different opinions on when it is or is not safe to exercise, it’s best to always air on the side of caution. Let your body do it’s thing and heal before putting additional, unnecessary, stress on it and remember that the faster you let yourself get better, the faster you’ll be back on the treadmill, killing your workouts, and feeling that much better for them!

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